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Analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences and circulating cell-free DNA from plasma of chronic fatigue syndrome and non-fatigued subjects

Suzanne D Vernon1*, Sanjay K Shukla2, Jennifer Conradt2, Elizabeth R Unger1 and William C Reeves1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA

2 Clinical Research Center, Marshfield Medical Research Foundation, 1000 North Oak Avenue, Marshfield WI 54449-5790, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2002, 2:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-2-39

Published: 23 December 2002



The association of an infectious agent with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been difficult and is further complicated by the lack of a known lesion or diseased tissue. Cell-free plasma DNA could serve as a sentinel of infection and disease occurring throughout the body. This type of systemic sample coupled with broad-range amplification of bacterial sequences was used to determine whether a bacterial pathogen was associated with CFS. Plasma DNA from 34 CFS and 55 non-fatigued subjects was assessed to determine plasma DNA concentration and the presence of bacterial 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences.


DNA was isolated from 81 (91%) of 89 plasma samples. The 55 non-fatigued subjects had higher plasma DNA concentrations than those with CFS (average 151 versus 91 ng) and more CFS subjects (6/34, 18%) had no detectable plasma DNA than non-fatigued subjects (2/55, 4%), but these differences were not significant. Bacterial sequences were detected in 23 (26%) of 89. Only 4 (14%) CFS subjects had 16S rDNA sequences amplified from plasma compared with 17 (32%) of the non-fatigued (P = 0.03). All but 1 of the 23 16S rDNA amplicon-positive subjects had five or more unique sequences present.


CFS subjects had slightly lower concentrations or no detectable plasma DNA than non-fatigued subjects. There was a diverse array of 16S rDNA sequences in plasma DNA from both CFS and non-fatigued subjects. There were no unique, previously uncharacterized or predominant 16S rDNA sequences in either CFS or non-fatigued subjects.

chronic fatigue syndrome; CFS; novel infectious agents; 16S rDNA