Background Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an increasing medical phenomenon of unknown aetiology leading to high levels of chronic morbidity. Of the many hypotheses that purport to explain this disease, immune system activation, as a central feature, has remained prominent but unsubstantiated. Supporting this, a number of important cytokines have previously been shown to be over-expressed in disease subjects. The diagnosis of CFS is highly problematic since no biological markers specific to this disease have been identified. The discovery of genes relating to this condition is an important goal in seeking to correctly categorize and understand this complex syndrome.
Objective The aim of this study was to screen for changes in gene expression in the lymphocytes of CFS patients.
Methods ‘Differential Display’ is a method for comparing mRNA populations for the induction or suppression of genes. In this technique, mRNA populations from control and test subjects can be ‘displayed’ by gel electrophoresis and screened for differing banding patterns. These differences are indicative of altered gene expression between samples, and the genes that correspond to these bands can be cloned and identified. Differential display has been used to compare expression levels between four control subjects and seven CFS patients.
Results Twelve short expressed sequence tags have been identified that were over-expressed in lymphocytes from CFS patients. Two of these correspond to cathepsin C and MAIL1 – genes known to be upregulated in activated lymphocytes. The expression level of seven of the differentially displayed sequences have been verified by quantifying relative level of these transcripts using TAQman quantitative PCR.
Conclusion Taken as a whole, the identification of novel gene tags up-regulated in CFS patients adds weight to the idea that CFS is a disease characterized by subtle changes in the immune system.