We have endeavoured to find immunological indications of chronic virus infection in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and to investigate immune responsiveness to viruses in such patients in comparison with normal subjects and patients with muscular dystrophy. Levels of circulating IgM immune complexes were elevated (above the 95% normal control range) in 10 (17%) of 58 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, which was not significantly different from the normal controls or from dystrophy controls (by Mann Whitney U test). Levels of IgG complexes were only increased in 10% of patients. Lymphocyte proliferation in response to concanavalin A (Con A), assessed by increase in 3H-thymidine incorporation, did not differ between 14 patients and 18 normal subjects. The proliferative response to Coxsackie B virus antigen did not differ between chronic fatigue patients and normal subjects when expressed either as an increase in counts or as a stimulation index. Adjustment of the counts in relation to the proliferation response to Con A, as an indication of the overall proliferative response of the cell preparation, did not reveal any hidden difference. IgM antibodies to Coxsackie B viruses were not found in any of 20 patients and in 1 of 20 dystrophy controls. Significant levels of neutralizing antibodies to Coxsackie B viruses 1-5 were found in 6 out of 19 (32%) patients compared with 4 out of 17 (24%) dystrophy controls, which does not differ from currently expected normal incidence. Antibody titres to other respiratory viruses were also not notably different between the patient and control groups. In conclusion we can find no evidence for a definable viral aetiology for the chronic fatigue syndrome, neither in terms of a persistent infection nor an altered ability to respond to virus.
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