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Absence of xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus in UK patients with chronic fatigue syndrome

Harriet CT Groom1, Virginie C Boucherit1, Kerry Makinson2, Edward Randal2, Sarah Baptista2, Suzanne Hagan3, John W Gow3, Frank M Mattes4, Judith Breuer5, Jonathan R Kerr2, Jonathan P Stoye1 and Kate N Bishop1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Virology, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 1AA, UK

2 CFS Group, Division of Cellular & Molecular Medicine, St George's University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK

3 The Centre for Forensic Investigation, Dept of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow G4 0BA, UK

4 Department of Virology, Barts and The London NHS Trust, 18 Newark St, Whitechapel, London E1 2ES, UK

5 Division of Infection and Immunity, University College London, Windeyer Building, 46 Cleveland St, London W1T 4JF, UK

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Retrovirology 2010, 7:10  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-7-10

Published: 15 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Detection of a retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), has recently been reported in 67% of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. We have studied a total of 170 samples from chronic fatigue syndrome patients from two UK cohorts and 395 controls for evidence of XMRV infection by looking either for the presence of viral nucleic acids using quantitative PCR (limit of detection <16 viral copies) or for the presence of serological responses using a virus neutralisation assay.

Results

We have not identified XMRV DNA in any samples by PCR (0/299). Some serum samples showed XMRV neutralising activity (26/565) but only one of these positive sera came from a CFS patient. Most of the positive sera were also able to neutralise MLV particles pseudotyped with envelope proteins from other viruses, including vesicular stomatitis virus, indicating significant cross-reactivity in serological responses. Four positive samples were specific for XMRV.

Conclusions

No association between XMRV infection and CFS was observed in the samples tested, either by PCR or serological methodologies. The non-specific neutralisation observed in multiple serum samples suggests that it is unlikely that these responses were elicited by XMRV and highlights the danger of over-estimating XMRV frequency based on serological assays. In spite of this, we believe that the detection of neutralising activity that did not inhibit VSV-G pseudotyped MLV in at least four human serum samples indicates that XMRV infection may occur in the general population, although with currently uncertain outcomes.