Studies find that microbiome changes may be a signature for ME/CFS

Feb. 9, 2023
NIH-funded studies link altered gut microbes to debilitating chronic disease.

Researchers have found differences in the gut microbiomes of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) compared to healthy controls. Findings from two studies, published in Cell Host & Microbe and funded by the National Institutes of Health add to growing evidence that connects disruptions in the gut microbiome, the complete collection of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in our gastrointestinal system, to ME/CFS.

In one study, senior author Brent L. Williams, Ph.D., assistant professor, W. Ian Lipkin, M.D., John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City, and their collaborators analyzed the genetic makeup of gut bacteria in fecal samples collected from a geographically diverse cohort of 106 people with ME/CFS and 91 healthy controls. The results revealed key differences in microbiome diversity, quantity, metabolic pathways, and interactions between species of gut bacteria.

In another study at the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut, Julia Oh, Ph.D., associate professor, and Derya Unutmaz, M.D., professor, teamed up with other ME/CFS experts to study microbiome abnormalities in different phases of ME/CFS. Dr. Oh’s team collected and analyzed clinical data, fecal samples, and blood samples from 149 people with ME/CFS who had been diagnosed within the previous four years (74 short-term) or who had been diagnosed more than 10 years ago (75 long-term) and 79 healthy controls.

The results showed that the short-term group had less microbial diversity, while the long-term group established a stable, but individualized gut microbiome similar to healthy controls. Dr. Oh and her colleagues found lower levels of several butyrate-producing species, including F. prausnitzii, especially in the short-term participants. There was also a reduction in species associated with tryptophan metabolism in all ME/CFS participants compared to controls.

Read the full release from NIH