1. Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by muscle fatigue and pain at rest, symptoms which are usually exacerbated with exercise. Although various studies have shown minor, non-specific morphological and biochemical changes in muscle of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, no consistent defect has been identified. Some have suggested that an enteroviral infection in muscle may cause the chronic muscle fatigue seen in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, with acute infection directly and irreversibly impairing mitochondrial function, and persistent infection depressing muscle protein synthesis and metabolism.
2. To clarify the involvement of enterovirus infection in chronic fatigue syndrome, muscle biopsies from a group of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were examined for the presence of enteroviral RNA by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction techniques in relation to functional studies of muscle mitochondria and the muscle RNA/DNA ratio.
3. Fifty-eight percent of patients reported an uncharacterized ‘viral infection’ before the onset of their illness, but none of the muscle samples from 34 patients contained detectable amounts of enteroviral RNA. Muscle tissue had a general reduction in the RNA/DNA ratio and mitochondrial enzyme activities with no specific abnormality in the activity of enzymes encoded partially on the mitochondrial genome (cytochrome-c oxidase) or nuclear genome (citrate synthase, succinate reductase).
4. These data provide no evidence of an enteroviral infection in muscle of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, although this does not exclude a role of enterovirus in initiating the disease process. The general reduction in RNA/DNA ratio and mitochondrial enzyme activities is consistent with a general reduction in habitual activity.