Identifying viruses in tissue and nerve samples from ME/CFS patients


Dr Amy Proal


PolyBio Research Foundation, USA

Start date

May 2023


ME Research UK with the financial support of the Gordon Parish Charitable Trust


Dr Nikos Kyrpides

It is possible that viruses associated with ME/CFS do not clear from patients after the initial infection, but remain in a persistent state. If that is the case, it is important to search for them in samples beyond just the blood, because those viruses most connected to ME/CFS – especially the polio-type enteroviruses and herpesviruses – can infect nerves and ‘hide’ in tissue.

The research team led by Dr Proal includes Dr Nikos Kyrpides from Berkeley National Laboratory and Dr Michael VanElzakkerfrom Massachusetts General Hospital. The team specialises in using new computer-based technologies to identify viruses in human tissue samples. These technologies are ‘unbiased’, meaning they can identify all genetic material in a sample, including novel viruses that earlier techniques might have missed.

Identified viruses are entered into the IMG/VR database – the world’s largest and most diverse viral database – which was also created by members of the team.


Dr Michael Van Elzakker

The goal of the project is to use these technologies to search for viruses in two types of samples collected from ME/CFS patients (diagnosed using the International Consensus Criteria):

  1. Tissue and nerve samples obtained from the ankle by punch biopsy, a technique normally used to diagnose small fibre neuropathy. These samples contain tissue and pain-associated nerves called C fibres.
  2. Tissue and nerve samples from the stomach obtained via a procedure called endoscopy

The researchers will compare any viruses identified in the samples from ME/CFS patients to those in similar samples obtained from healthy people.

Potential benefits

The results will help clarify if viral activity can contribute to the disease process in ME/CFS, and shed light on which specific viral species are most involved. That could provide the impetus for treatments for ME/CFS that target those viruses.

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