Diagnostic Marker for CFS? The poker game going on in our genes

This article is based on a taped conversation with
Dr. Paul Cheney and has been reviewed and edited by him.

Dr. Cheney read a newly published study on Gulf War Veterans this summer and glimpsed a possible diagnostic marker for CFS. Test subjects included three Gulf War Veterans, seven healthy control subjects, and two people with active polio-virus. Researchers probed their blood for both RNA and DNA. They found thousands of different sized RNA segments floating around in the serum of veterans, a small amount in the polio subjects, and none in the healthy controls. Serum is what's left after you remove all the various cells and things that travel around in the blood -- the remainder.

The researchers called this, "Voyager RNA" since it travels outside the cells rather than inside the red or white blood cells or platelets where it's normally found. This finding in the veterans is highly unusual on four counts. Not only did they have RNA segments in their blood, there were a lot of RNA segments in their blood. Additionally, they had a lot of aberrant RNA segments in their blood, and they all the same aberrant RNA segments in their blood.

Comparatively the segments from the three veterans varied by less than 1%. After isolating the aberrant sequence, the researchers examined it in detail and began recognizing certain pieces, which all came from part of chromosome 22. It appeared that this section of chromo-some 22 had been sliced up, rearranged, pieces from somewhere else inserted, and the whole thing reconnected.

Amazingly, a section of chromosome 22 appears to be altered, and it's altered the same way in all three veterans! Since the veteran's symptoms were identical to CFS, Dr. Cheney began testing CFS patients. Almost all had this same aberrant RNA segment. This strongly suggests that the veterans and the CFS patients have the same illness, and that the aberrant segment of RNA is very likely a diagnostic marker.

Cheney suspects that this marker only appears well into the illness, and will not be found close to onset. He also believes that the amount of aberrant RNA in the blood serum may correlate with illness severity. Why would patients with CFS and GWS have an aberrant piece of RNA, and why would they all happen to have the same one?

Dr. Cheney uses a wonderful analogy to explain it„a poker game. When the body faces an extreme health threat, it plays poker with it's DNA in order to find something that will help. The body breaks some of the DNA up into "cards" and shuffles them to see if it can deal a winning hand. There are three possibilities in poker hands. There's the winning hand.

That's possibly what this RNA segment found in both CFS and GWS is a winning hand. The body shuffles its way to something that it senses might help, so it remembers it and makes a lot of copies. These segments float around in the blood on their way to other cells to make more copies, and they show up on the test more easily because there are so many of them.

The potential diagnostic marker is actually a winning hand, or as close as the body can come to one. And it's a marker because everyone with the same illness will eventually shuffle to the same solution. Same problem, same helpful answer.

A second possibility is a bust hand. You don't win or lose„the new segment doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt either. The third possibility is bad news. Every so often you deal a hand with the joker in it. The body shuffles and deals out a segment that is a metabolic toxin. If it is extremely poisonous it will destroy the cell in which it was created, thus destroying itself. The real problem is the minor toxins, the ones that make you sick but won't kill you. You shuffle out enough of these bad hands and it can keep you from getting well. The hope lies in the new treatment Dr. Cheney is testing, fetal bovine growth factor, which will, hopefully, be able to destroy some or all of these aberrant segments of RNA.

More research is needed to confirm that this segment of RNA is a diagnostic marker, but Dr. Cheney believes this is by far the best candidate yet. He also notes that while it would be a genetic marker, it is not one we are born with. It is one our body creates in response to this illness.

The study mentioned above, titled, "RNAs in the Sera of Persian Gulf War Veterans Have Segments Homologous to Chromosome 22q11.2," was written by Urnovitz, Tuite, Higashida, and Murphy, and published in Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology in May 1999, pp. 330-335. You can read a transcribed interview with Urnovitz about the study at http://members.aol.com/rgm1/private/transcr.htm.