Autoimmune gene expression profiling of fingerstick whole blood in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


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Autoimmune gene expression profiling of fingerstick whole blood in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Zheng Wang 1, Michelle F Waldman 2, Tara J Basavanhally 2, Aviva R Jacobs 3, Gonzalo Lopez 2, Regis Y Perichon 2, Johnny J Ma 2, Elyse M Mackenzie 4, James B Healy 3, Yixin Wang 2, Sarah A Hersey 2
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Background: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a debilitating condition that can lead to severe impairment of physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and occupational functions. The cause of ME/CFS remains incompletely understood. There is no clinical diagnostic test for ME/CFS. Although many therapies have been used off-label to manage symptoms of ME/CFS, there are limited, if any, specific therapies or cure for ME/CFS. In this study, we investigated the expression of genes specific to key immune functions, and viral infection status in ME/CFS patients with an aim of identifying biomarkers for characterization and/or treatment of the disease.

Methods: In 2021, one-hundred and sixty-six (166) patients diagnosed with ME/CFS and 83 healthy controls in the US participated in this study via a social media-based application (app). The patients and heathy volunteers consented to the study and provided self-collected finger-stick blood and first morning void urine samples from home. RNA from the fingerstick blood was tested using DxTerity's 51-gene autoimmune RNA expression panel (AIP). In addition, DNA from the same fingerstick blood sample was extracted to detect viral load of 4 known ME/CFS associated viruses (HHV6, HHV7, CMV and EBV) using a real-time PCR method.

Results: Among the 166 ME/CFS participants in the study, approximately half (49%) of the ME/CFS patients reported being house-bound or bedridden due to severe symptoms of the disease. From the AIP testing, ME/CFS patients with severe, bedridden conditions displayed significant increases in gene expression of IKZF2, IKZF3, HSPA8, BACH2, ABCE1 and CD3D, as compared to patients with mild to moderate disease conditions. These six aforementioned genes were further upregulated in the 22 bedridden participants who suffer not only from ME/CFS but also from other autoimmune diseases. These genes are involved in T cell, B cell and autoimmunity functions. Furthermore, IKZF3 (Aiolos) and IKZF2 (Helios), and BACH2 have been implicated in other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Among the 240 participants tested with the viral assays, 9 samples showed positive results (including 1 EBV positive and 8 HHV6 positives).

Conclusions: Our study indicates that gene expression biomarkers may be used in identifying or differentiating subsets of ME/CFS patients having different levels of disease severity. These gene targets may also represent opportunities for new therapeutic modalities for the treatment of ME/CFS. The use of social media engaged patient recruitment and at-home sample collection represents a novel approach for conducting clinical research which saves cost, time and eliminates travel for office visits.

Keywords: Autoimmune disease; B cell; Chronic fatigue syndrome; Gene expression profiling; Patient centric approach; T cell.
© 2022. The Author(s).