Science 9 October 2009: Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) Chronic Fatigue Syndrome link to retrovirus

Today, the prestigious journal Science publishes a study from researchers from the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) linking Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to a retrovirus:

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The World’s Leading Journal of Original Scientific Research, Global News, and Commentary

Science Express

Published Online October 8, 2009
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1179052
Science Express Index

Submitted on July 14, 2009
Accepted on August 31, 2009

Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Vincent C. Lombardi 1, Francis W. Ruscetti 2, Jaydip Das Gupta 3, Max A. Pfost 1, Kathryn S. Hagen 1, Daniel L. Peterson 1, Sandra K. Ruscetti 4, Rachel K. Bagni 5, Cari Petrow-Sadowski 6, Bert Gold 2, Michael Dean 2, Robert H. Silverman 3, Judy A. Mikovits 1*

1 Whittemore Peterson Institute, Reno, NV 89557, USA.
2 Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, MD 21701, USA.
3 Department of Cancer Biology, The Lerner Research Institute, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.
4 Laboratory of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, MD 21701, USA.
5 Advanced Technology Program, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, MD 21701, USA.
6 Basic Research Program, Scientific Applications International Corporation, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, MD 21701, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Judy A. Mikovits , E-mail:  

These authors contributed equally to this work.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disease of unknown etiology that is estimated to affect 17 million people worldwide. Studying peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from CFS patients, we identified DNA from a human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV), in 68 of 101 patients (67%) compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls. Cell culture experiments revealed that patient-derived XMRV is infectious and that both cell-associated and cell-free transmission of the virus are possible. Secondary viral infections were established in uninfected primary lymphocytes and indicator cell lines following exposure to activated PBMCs, B cells, T cells, or plasma derived from CFS patients. These findings raise the possibility that XMRV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of CFS.


Published Online October 8, 2009
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1181349
Science Express Index

Submitted on July 14, 2009
Accepted on August 31, 2009

A New Virus for Old Diseases?

John M. Coffin 1* and Jonathan P. Stoye 2
1 Department of Molecular Microbiology, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA.
2 National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
John M. Coffin , E-mail:  

A retrovirus associated with cancer is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome.


Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro Immune Disease:

WPI Press Release PDF format:  WPI Press Release 08.10.09

Q & A:

XMRV research

On 24 September, WPI announced:

Awarded Prestigious NIH R01 Grant:

‘New Strategies to Decipher the Pathophysiology of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’

“WPI Research Director Dr. Judy Mikovits and collaborator Dr. Jonathan Kerr of St. George’s College in London were awarded this $1.6 million grant by the National Institute of Allergy And Infectious Diseases. This 5 year grant will provide critical support for the ongoing research into the causes and diagnosis of neuro-immune diseases.”


NIH (National Institutes of Health) News Release:
Embargoed for Release
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Consortium of Researchers Discover Retroviral Link to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Scientists have discovered a potential retroviral link to chronic fatigue syndrome, known as CFS, a debilitating disease that affects millions of people in the United States. Researchers from the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), located at the University of Nevada, Reno, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Cleveland Clinic, report this finding online Oct. 8, 2009, issue of Science.

“We now have evidence that a retrovirus named XMRV is frequently present in the blood of patients with CFS. This discovery could be a major step in the discovery of vital treatment options for millions of patients,” said Judy Mikovits, Ph.D., director of research for WPI and leader of the team that discovered this association. Researchers cautioned however, that this finding shows there is an association between XMRV and CFS but does not prove that XMRV causes CFS.

The scientists provide a new hypothesis for a retrovirus link with CFS. The virus, XMRV, was first identified by Robert H. Silverman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, in men who had a specific immune system defect that reduced their ability to fight viral infections.

“The discovery of XMRV in two major diseases, prostate cancer and now chronic fatigue syndrome, is very exciting. If cause-and-effect is established, there would be a new opportunity for prevention and treatment of these diseases,” said Silverman, a co-author on the CFS paper.

Commonality of an immune system defect in patients with CFS and prostate cancer led researchers to look for the virus in their blood samples. In this study, WPI scientists identified XMRV in the blood of 68 of 101 (67 percent) CFS patients. In contrast, they found that eight of 218 healthy people (3.7 percent) contained XMRV DNA. The research team not only found that blood cells contained XMRV but also expressed XMRV proteins at high levels and produced infectious viral particles. A clinically validated test to detect XMRV antibodies in patients’ plasma is currently under development.

These results were also supported by the observation of retrovirus particles in patient samples when examined using transmission electron microscopy. The data demonstrate the first direct isolation of infectious XMRV from humans.

“These compelling data allow the development of a hypothesis concerning a cause of this complex and misunderstood disease, since retroviruses are a known cause of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer in man,” said Francis Ruscetti, Ph.D., Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, NCI.

Retroviruses like XMRV have also been shown to activate a number of other latent viruses. This could explain why so many different viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus, which was causally linked to Burkitt’s and other lymphomas in the 1970s, have been associated with CFS. It is important to note that retroviruses, like XMRV, are not airborne.

“The scientific evidence that a retrovirus is implicated in CFS opens a new world of possibilities for so many people,” said Annette Whittemore, founder and president of WPI and mother of a CFS patient. “Scientists can now begin the important work of translating this discovery into medical care for individuals with XMRV related diseases.”

Dan Peterson, M.D., medical director of WPI added, “Patients with CFS deal with a myriad of health issues as their quality of life declines. I’m excited about the possibility of providing patients, who are positive for XMRV, a definitive diagnosis, and hopefully very soon, a range of effective treatments options.”

The Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro Immune Disease exists to bring discovery, knowledge, and effective treatments to patients with illnesses that are caused by acquired dysregulation of both the immune system and the nervous system, often resulting in lifelong disease and disability.

The Lerner Research Institute is home to Cleveland Clinic’s laboratory, translational and clinical research. Its mission: to promote human health by investigating in the laboratory and the clinic the causes of disease and discovering novel approaches to prevention and treatments; to train the next generation of biomedical researchers; and to foster productive collaborations with those providing clinical care. More than 1,200 people in 11 departments work in research programs focusing on cardiovascular, cancer, neurologic, musculoskeletal, allergic and immunologic, eye, metabolic, and infectious disease. The Institute also is an integral part of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI Web site at or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The Nation’s Medical Research Agency – includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit Lombardi VC, Ruscetti FW, Gupta JD, Pfost MA, Hagen KS, Peterson DL, Ruscetti SK, Bagni RK, Petrow-Sadowski C, Gold B, Dean M, Silverman RH, and Mikovits JA. Detection of Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Online October 8, 2009. Science.


CFIDS Association of America  via Co-Cure
Thursday, October 08, 2009 7:58 PM

Landmark study published in Science magazine today

In today’s issue of Science Express, researchers at the Whittemore-Peterson Institute (WPI), the Cleveland Clinic and the National Cancer Institute report that 67% of 101 chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients tested positive for infection with xenobiotic murine retrovirus (XMRV), a gammaretrovirus associated with a subset of prostate cancer.

Only 3.7% of 218 healthy subjects tested were positive for the virus. Read the joint press release issued today at:  

An abstract of the article will be available later today at

The full article text is available to Science subscribers, American Association for the Advancement of Science members; one-day access to the AAAS site can be purchased for $15.00.

These important results provide evidence of the association of at least a subset of CFS cases with retroviruses, a hypothesis formed in the mid-1980s and pursued by several independent research groups. XMRV was recently discovered in a subset of prostate cancer patients’ tumor cells and the finding by Lombardi et al may be the first documentation of XMRV infection in women.

The authors raise questions about this discovery at the end of the article, including “Is XMRV infection a causal factor in the pathogenesis of CFS or a passenger virus in the immunosuppressed CFS patient population?” This question and others warrant additional investigation and the replication of this study’s findings in other patient cohorts should be a priority for the field. There is currently no commercial test available for XMRV and studies of antiviral and antiretroviral treatments must be conducted to test their efficacyagainst XMRV infection.

The CFIDS Association of America congratulates Dr. Mikovits and her team at the Whittemore-Peterson Institute and their collaborators at the Cleveland Clinic and National Cancer Institute for this landmark discovery. The findings themselves and publication of them in a journal of the stature and circulation of Science is a highly significant contribution to the field. This study and the high-profile publication are important validation of the reality and seriousness of CFS and those who suffer and have been stigmatized too long.


Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Lombardi VC, Ruscetti FW, Gupta JD, Pfost MA, Hagen KS, Peterson DL, Ruscetti SK, Bagni RK, Petrow-Sadowski C, Gold B, Dean M, Silverman RH, Mikovits JA. Science 8 October 2009.  1179052.


New Scientist

Chronic fatigue syndrome linked to ‘cancer virus’

19:00 08 October 2009 by Ewen Callaway


“It’s a contentious area that lies somewhere between medicine and psychiatry,” says Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist at King’s College London who has been vilified by patient groups for his scepticism of cut-and-dried explanations for CFS and his assertion that psychological factors may play an important role…


…Wessely points out, however, that XMRV fails to account for the wide variety of other factors associated with the CFS, including childhood trauma* and other infections such as viral meningitis. “Any model that is going to be satisfactory has to explain everything, not just little bits,” he says.


Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1179052

Read full New Scientist article here (there is a Comment facility)

*Commentary on this paper from Pamela Weintraub, 13 January 2009: “Chronic fatigue syndrome & child abuse: Disordered patients or disordered research? Are chronic fatigue patients victims of child abuse or research abuse?”



Published online 8 October 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.983


Virus linked to chronic fatigue syndrome
Prostate cancer pathogen may be behind the disease once dubbed ‘yuppie flu’.

Lizzie Buchen

A study on chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has linked the mysterious and controversial disease to a recently discovered retrovirus. Just last month researchers found the same virus to be associated with aggressive prostate tumours.

Read full Nature article here


Viral cause for chronic fatigue?
Posted by Edyta Zielinska

[Entry posted at 8th October 2009 07:00 PM GMT]

A recently-discovered virus found to be associated with prostate cancer, has now been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), according to a study published online in Science today (8 October). The study, although only correlative, lends a greater immediacy to questions about how the virus is spread and what, if any, other diseases it might cause…

Read full The Scientist article here


Breaking news:

Scientists link chronic fatigue ailment to retrovirus

“WASHINGTON — Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a mysterious and debilitating exhaustion that is not relieved by sleep, appears to be linked to a retrovirus, researchers announced Thursday in a breakthrough study.

In the latest issue of Science, researchers said their findings could lead to a treatment for an ailment affecting millions of Americans and that in some cases render them unable to work or engage in even moderately robust activities.

The study was hailed as a breakthrough in understanding the perplexing syndrome for which there is no known treatment.”

Read full Washington Post article here


THURSDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) 

“About two-thirds of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome sampled in a recent study were infected with a retrovirus called XMRV.

The finding, albeit preliminary, has raised hopes that there might be a concrete cause for the mysterious malady and thus, down the line, treatments for the disease.

“This study does not prove that XMRV is the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, however it does suggest it is a viable candidate for a cause,” said Robert H. Silverman, co-author of a report appearing online Oct. 8 in Science.”

Read on here


Virus Associated With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Scientists have found evidence that a virus may play a role in chronic fatigue syndrome.

“Vincent C. Lombardi of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nev., and scientists elsewhere studied 101 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, a baffling, debilitating and controversial condition that affects an estimated 17 million people worldwide. They discovered that 68 of the patients — 67 percent — had a virus in their blood known as the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus or XMRV. Only eight of 218 similar subjects who did not have chronic fatigue syndrome — 3.7 percent — had the virus in their blood, the researchers report in a paper published online Thursday by the journal Science.

Further studies showed that the virus is indeed infectious, and can “provoke” the immune system to respond.”

Read on here


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