Research reveals differences in the gut microbiomes of people with ME/CFS

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New research reveals differences in the gut microbiomes of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) compared to those of healthy controls.

ME/CFS is characterized by unexplained debilitating fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, gastrointestinal disturbances, among other symptoms.

The study was led by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, as part of the Center for Solutions for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional research group dedicated to understanding the biology of the disease in order to develop effective means to diagnose, treat and prevent it. Findings appear in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

The researchers conducted metagenomic and metabolomic analyses of fecal samples collected from geographically diverse cohort of 106 cases and 91 healthy controls. Results revealed differences in gut microbiome diversity, abundances, functional biological pathways, and interactions between bacteria. Cases and controls were matched for age, sex, geography, and socioeconomic status.

Gut bacteria Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Eubacterium rectale, which are both normally abundant and health-promoting, were reduced in ME/CFS participants. For both bacteria, researchers also found a deficient microbial capacity for synthesizing butyrate, the main fuel for the body’s colon cell, with ME/CFS. The abundance of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was inversely associated with fatigue severity.

The only other species identified with reduced relative abundance in ME/CFS was C. secundus, an acetate-producer, that could contribute to the net acetate deficiency the researchers found in ME/CFS subjects. Acetate is used by butyrate-producing bacteria to produce butyrate.

An additional nine species had increased relative abundance in ME/CFS compared to healthy controls, including C. bolteae which in other research has correlated with fatigue in multiple sclerosis. Another, R. gnavus, has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

“The gut microbiome is a complex ecological community teeming with diverse inter-species interactions that can be beneficial or harmful. Our research finds that in people with ME/CFS, there can be extensive rewiring of the networks of bacteria in this system,” says study senior author Brent Williams, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in CII at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Understanding the connection between ME/CFS and disturbances in the gut microbiome may lead to ways to classify the disease and targets for therapeutic trials.”

W. Ian Lipkin, MD, CII, co-author, director and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School


Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Journal reference:

Guo, C., et al. (2023) Deficient butyrate-producing capacity in the gut microbiome is associated with bacterial network disturbances and fatigue symptoms in ME/CFS. Cell Host & Microbe.

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