SEP 02, 2016 4:38 AM PDT

New ‘Chemical Signature' Unique to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a mysterious disease that’s challenging to treat but even more complicated to diagnose. But for the 2.5 million of Americans who suffer from this condition, perhaps it would be reassuring to know that a new blood test can detect the condition. This could, therefore, bypass the potential years of misdiagnosis that’s often associated with this disease.

Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition, and that can’t be improved with rest. The broad scope of this definition means that most patients are only diagnosed with CFS through a process of elimination. This gauntlet can take years before patients are appropriately diagnosed.
To better understand CFS, Naviaux led his team of researchers to compare the blood signatures of 84 men and women with CFS to that of 39 healthy individuals. From the samples, the team analyzed over 600 metabolites that correspond to 63 biochemical pathways.
In comparing the metabolite profiles, the researchers found that 60 chemicals differed between healthy people and CFS patients. From this, the team created a test based on 8 metabolites for men and 13 metabolites for women. This test was more than 90 percent accurate at helping doctors diagnose CFS.
“The finding of an objective chemical signature in CFS helps to remove diagnostic uncertainty and will help clinicians monitor individualized responses to treatment,” the researchers wrote in their PNAS publication. Indeed, if validated, the chemical profile will be the first of its kind to help doctors objectively and accurately diagnose CFS. Furthermore, these chemicals can be used as objective indicators on whether treatments are helping CFS patients improve.

“CFS is a very challenging disease,” said Robert Naviaux, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine. “It affects multiple systems of the body. Symptoms vary and are common to many other diseases. There is no diagnostic laboratory test. Patients may spend tens of thousands of dollars and years trying to get a correct diagnosis.”
Of note, the team found that the decrease in metabolism in CFS patients actually resemble a resting state in worms. Though the profiles show similarity, the researchers don’t yet know the mechanism behind why this happens. Nevertheless, Naviaux said, “This work opens a fresh path to both understanding the biology of CFS and, more importantly to patients, a robust, rational way to develop new therapeutics for a disease sorely in need of them.”

Additional source: Live Science
About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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