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Adrienne Dellwo

XMRV: Retrovirus Linked to Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By October 12, 2009

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The XMRV Discovery Series

The discovery of a retrovirus in a majority of people with† chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS), and possibly people with fibromyalgia (FMS),† has made big news. (Click here for the story.) But this particular infectious agent has made headlines before -- just last month, when it was linked to some cases of prostate cancer.

The retrovirus is called XMRV. To begin understanding this discovery, let's look at a few key definitions.

XMRV stands for:

  • Xenotropic
  • Murine leukemia virus
  • Related
  • Virus

So, essentially, it's a virus related to a virus that causes a type of leukemia in mice.

The term xenotropic means: xeno=foreign, tropic=growth. When a virus that normally infects another species infects humans, that virus is called xenotropic. XMRV apparently originated in mice.

A retrovirus is one that inserts its DNA right into your cell's genetic makeup. In cancer, tumors can result when a retrovirus inserts its DNA next to a gene that regulates cell growth. I don't see anything in the published ME/CFS paper to suggest that scientists know exactly where the DNA is inserted in human cells, but I imagine that will be a major area of exploration as this research continues.

Also See: The XMRV Discovery Series

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo © Chad Baker/Ryan McVay/Getty Images

October 24, 2009 at 9:01 am
(1) Hazel Schwartz says:

Keep it coming. This thing about xMRV is fascinating.

I always give credit where credit is due.



October 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm
(2) Lila Vaccher says:

I read the article, no where does it mention that it tested anyone with fibromyalgia. They only tested sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They are NOT the same disease, do some investigating before you spread false rumors.

October 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm
(3) Adrienne Dellwo says:


The article you mentioned was the published study, which was just on chronic fatigue syndrome. However, in the news release that went out with the article, in interviews, and on their website, the researchers said that since the study was completed, they’d also tested blood samples from people with fibromyalgia and had found the retrovirus there as well. Here’s more information on that for you: XMRV & Fibromyalgia.

October 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(4) Di says:

I agree we need to stop making assumptions and wait for more resarch and study results.
Really we aren’t that desperate that we are going to take this ‘one research study’ and change our life styles because of it. For us to assume that we may be transmitting the virus in the ways mentioned is premature and can be very harmful to the emotional well being of some.
Wait before making assumptions and changing your lifestyle. Read the article yourself, don’t rely on someone else’s interpretation.
This is a good sign that research is being done but I’m not changing my lifestyle because of one study that may even be shown to be incorrect by another study. Consider it…..

October 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm
(5) Carol says:

Personally, I find this research hopeful. Probably the most positive news to come along in a long time. It’s all over the internet, not just in this newletter.

What changes could we possibly make to our lifestyle at this point? This is about about a possible cause. Research is being done. For that I am grateful.

November 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm
(6) Dani says:

My friends Mom had Fibromyalgia for over 20 years and was diagnosed with Leukemia a few months ago. She lived only 16 days. Do I think it’s only a coincidence? Not really.

I have Fibromyalgia myself. I was diagnosed 8 years ago…I am only 35. I certainly hope they figure this out soon. I don’t want to be a statistic. I have always thought that is was something more. I will pray.

December 4, 2009 at 12:44 pm
(7) tonya says:

Is there a difference between xmrv and cronic epstein- barr virus? I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue 21 years ago. However back then they tested me for a virus called epstein- barr.I tested possitive. The symptoms are pretty much the same. This is why I’m wondering if it is the same virus but with a new name. I still suffer symptoms after 21 years and will never get rid of it. Is this the same with xmrv?

Guide Response: Yes, XMRV is different from Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). A lot of people with ME/CFS have chronic problems with EBV, and researchers are speculating that XMRV (which is extremely small, even for a virus) may “piggyback” in on larger viruses like EBV. Also, I should note that we don’t yet know what, if any, symptoms are linked specifically to XMRV. ~Adrienne

December 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm
(8) lynn says:

there is a specific test for xmrv.. there are a surprising number of people with this

December 23, 2009 at 1:10 am
(9) melinda says:

I have fibromyligia and i feel better only when i am on antibiotics.
I’ve had this disease now over a decade. i know my body and it feels better on cylindamyicn

November 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm
(10) pat says:

thanks so much for this info. i will try this antibotic and hopefully if will help me. i am tired and exhausted all the time, it feels like i am having to dray my body everywhere. thanks again pat

February 8, 2010 at 10:37 pm
(11) biomajor says:

i just wanted to say that the information about the retrovirus is wrong. retroviruses contain RNA not DNA

February 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm
(12) Adrienne Dellwo says:


Yes, retroviruses contain RNA — but the RNA is translated into DNA before it’s inserted into the host cell, via the enzyme reverse transcriptase.

February 11, 2010 at 1:07 am
(13) Larry Felker says:

In none of the research did I see FM mentioned.

Do you have a reference? Important not to exaggerate.

Guide Response: The fibromyalgia information wasn’t part of the published study, but it has been made available with the post-study work done by the WPI. More information is available here: XMRV & Fibromyalgia and here: WPI’s XMRV Q&A Page ~Adrienne

December 20, 2010 at 8:55 pm
(14) andrew hill says:

XMRV has been ruled out as a cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or at least all the existing evidence has been discovered to be wrong:


January 4, 2011 at 1:30 am
(15) ferv wistack says:

Re: the above comment, 4 recent papers have suggested a type of laboratory test for XMRV is prone to contamination, which may lead to false readings. The authors suggest this contamination is the cause of the findings published in Science. Those papers do not, however, refute or disprove the earlier findings – just make the case that contamination is possible. The earlier tests, which found a link, aren’t so easily dismissed. They rarely the XMRV in control patients, and the research found positive results with other methods as well. One critic, upon review of the above has now reversed himself. Still not settled science, but….http://tinyurl.com/263ocvy

January 23, 2011 at 10:18 am
(16) laura t. says:

from dr. harvey alter at the bpac meeting:

DR. ALTER: “Since Dr. Lo had to leave early, I felt I had to come up and do some defense of him and Judy as well. I think, when a group finds a new agent, they become biased that this agent is real. When another group doesnít find an agent, they become, I think, even more biased that the agent is not real. That leads to this kind of contentiousness. I think our goal should be not to bring the other side down, but to find the truth. I think the truth will out over the next year, with studies that are already planned. At this point I concur that we have no evidence for causality. Thatís going to be very difficult to come by, especially when we are detecting at the limits of detectability and when assay performance is very critical to get equal results.

January 23, 2011 at 10:21 am
(17) laura t. says:

DR ALTER CONT: But I still want to counter by saying I think the current evidence for disease association is very strong, even though not universally confirmed. But it has been confirmed now in at least four studies, two of which were presented today, that either XMRV or a polytropic MLV is associated strongly with chronic fatigue syndrome. A point that I think was misrepresented today: In those labs who do find the agent, it is very reproducible. Judy has found the same patients to be positive by culture year after year. We have found a patient to come back after 15 years and still be positive. So this is not a single, isolated finding. Itís confirmed by sequencing. Itís reproducible over time. Dr. Hanson has shown today how critical the assays are. When she tweaked her assay, she went from no findings to findings almost identical to the Lo lab. The diversity is now being confirmed also in the original WPI group. XMRV isnít the only agent even in the WPI lab. Despite the very legitimate concern for contamination ó I think this is a serious issue ó there have been hundreds of negative controls in the same laboratory that are always consistently negative. An extremely sensitive mouse mitochondrial DNA has always been negative in the Lo laboratory. Lo has done the [IAP] assay that Dr. Coffin recommended. That is also negative. There just has been no evidence for contamination. Although you could say maybe the negatives could be negative somehow and the positives positive for contamination reasons, it really is not logical that that would be so. Iím not a molecular biologist. I defer to Dr. Stoye, who is world-renowned in that area. But just as a simple doctor, it seems to me that you have used single-case anecdotal evidence to knock down the various possibilities. I just want to make a case to the committee that you canít ó your conclusion is that anything can happen in assays, and therefore it probably has happened this time.

January 23, 2011 at 10:22 am
(18) laura t. says:

DR ALTER 3 (conclusion): “I think using that kind of anecdotal probability is not valid to negate reproducible data from four different laboratories. So at least keep that in mind. Lastly, Iím not a chronic fatigue doctor, but I have learned a lot about chronic fatigue in the last six months and have spoken to a lot of patients. Iím absolutely convinced that when you define this disease by proper criteria, this is a very serious and significant medical disease, and not a psychological disease. It has the characteristics of a viral disease. It usually starts with a viral-like illness. If XMRV is not the causative agent ó and it may well not be ó there is still need by other groups to look for the next agent which may be the case.”

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