Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evidence for a heritable predisposition to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Frederick Albright1*, Kathleen Light2, Alan Light2, Lucinda Bateman3 and Lisa A Cannon-Albright45

Author Affiliations

1 Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center, Department of Pharmacotherapy, College of Pharmacy, University of Utah, USA

2 Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Utah, USA

3 Fatigue Consultation Clinic, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

4 Division of Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Utah, USA

5 George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:62  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-62

Published: 27 May 2011



Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) came to attention in the 1980s, but initial investigations did not find organic causes. Now decades later, the etiology of CFS has yet to be understood, and the role of genetic predisposition in CFS remains controversial. Recent reports of CFS association with the retrovirus xenotropic murine leukemic virus-related virus (XMRV) or other murine leukemia related retroviruses (MLV) might also suggest underlying genetic implications within the host immune system.


We present analyses of familial clustering of CFS in a computerized genealogical resource linking multiple generations of genealogy data with medical diagnosis data of a large Utah health care system. We compare pair-wise relatedness among cases to expected relatedness in the Utah population, and we estimate risk for CFS for first, second, and third degree relatives of CFS cases.


We observed significant excess relatedness of CFS cases compared to that expected in this population. Significant excess relatedness was observed for both close (p <0.001) and distant relationships (p = 0.010). We also observed significant excess CFS relative risk among first (2.70, 95% CI: 1.56-4.66), second (2.34, 95% CI: 1.31-4.19), and third degree relatives (1.93, 95% CI: 1.21-3.07).


These analyses provide strong support for a heritable contribution to predisposition to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A population of high-risk CFS pedigrees has been identified, the study of which may provide additional understanding.