In October 2009 it was reported that 68 of 101 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in the USA were infected with a novel gamma retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), a virus previously linked to prostate cancer. This finding, if confirmed, would have a profound effect on the understanding and treatment of an incapacitating disease affecting millions worldwide.
But does XMRV cause disease? It’s far from clear that it does.
No Evidence of XMRV or Related Retroviruses in a London HIV-1-Positive Patient Cohort. 2011 PLoS ONE 6(3): e18096. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018096
Several studies have implicated a recently discovered gammaretrovirus, XMRV (Xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus), in chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer, though whether as causative agent or opportunistic infection is unclear. It has also been suggested that the virus can be found circulating amongst the general population. The discovery has been controversial, with conflicting results from attempts to reproduce the original studies.
We extracted peripheral blood DNA from a cohort of 540 HIV-1-positive patients (approximately 20% of whom have never been on anti-retroviral treatment) and determined the presence of XMRV and related viruses using TaqMan PCR. While we were able to amplify as few as 5 copies of positive control DNA, we did not find any positive samples in the patient cohort.
In view of these negative findings in this highly susceptible group, we conclude that it is unlikely that XMRV or related viruses are circulating at a significant level, if at all, in HIV-1-positive patients in London or in the general population.