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Cytotoxic lymphocyte microRNAs as prospective biomarkers for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

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By Ekua W Benu, Sonya M Marshall-Gradisnik, et al. • • October 9, 2012

[Note: microRNAs (miRNAs) are biological regulators of cell function [see video]. Aberrant expression of microRNAs has been implicated in numerous disease states, with the result that investigations to identify, understand and potentially manipulate them represent a cutting-edge field of research.]

Background: Immune dysfunction associated with a disease often has a molecular basis.

A novel group of molecules known as microRNAs (miRNAs) have been associated with suppression of translational processes involved in cellular development and proliferation, protein secretion, apoptosis, immune function and inflammatory processes.

MicroRNAs may be implicated in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), where immune function is impaired.

The objective of this study was to determine the association between miRNAs in cytotoxic cells and CFS/ME. ['Cytotoxic' denotes 'cell-killing'.]


Natural Killer (NK) and CD8(+)T cells were preferentially isolated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells from all participants (CFS/ME, n = 28; mean age = 41.8 +/- 9.6 years; and controls, n = 28; mean age = 45.3 +/- 11.7 years), via negative cell enrichment.

Following total RNA extraction and subsequent synthesis of cDNA, reverse transcriptase-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) was used to determine the expression levels of nineteen miRNAs.


• There was a significant reduction in the expression levels of miR-21, in both the NK and CD8(+)T cells in the CFS/ME sufferers.

• Additionally, the expression of miR-17-5p, miR-10a, miR-103, miR-152, miR-146a, miR-106, miR-223 and miR-191 was significantly decreased in NK cells of CFS/ME patients in comparison to the non-fatigued controls.

Limitations: The results from these investigations are not yet transferable into the clinical setting, further validatory studies are now required.


• Collectively these miRNAs have been associated with apoptosis, cell cycle, development and immune function.

• Changes in miRNAs in cytotoxic cells may reduce the functional capacity of these cells and disrupt effective cytotoxic activity along with other immune functions in CFS/ME patients.

Source: Journal of Affective Disorders, May 7, 2012 [fee-based article]. PMID:22572093, by Brenu EW, Ashton KJ, van Driel M, Staines DR, Peterson D, Atkinson GM, Marshall-Gradisnik SM. Faculty of Health Science and Medicine, Population Health and Neuroimmunology Unit, Bond University, Robina, Queensland, Australia. [Email:]

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