Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (ME/CFS) is a disabling and debilitating disease of unknown aetiology. It is a heterogeneous disease characterized by various inflammatory, immune, viral, neurological and endocrine symptoms.
Several microbiome studies have described alterations in the bacterial component of the microbiome (dysbiosis) consistent with a possible role in disease development. However, in focusing on the bacterial components of the microbiome, these studies have neglected the viral constituent known as the virome. Viruses, particularly those infecting bacteria (bacteriophages), have the potential to alter the function and structure of the microbiome via gene transfer and host lysis. Viral-induced microbiome changes can directly and indirectly influence host health and disease.
The contribution of viruses towards disease pathogenesis is therefore an important area for research in ME/CFS. Recent advancements in sequencing technology and bioinformatics now allow more comprehensive and inclusive investigations of human microbiomes. However, as the number of microbiome studies increases, the need for greater consistency in study design and analysis also increases.
Comparisons between different ME/CFS microbiome studies are difficult because of differences in patient selection and diagnosis criteria, sample processing, genome sequencing and downstream bioinformatics analysis. It is therefore important that microbiome studies adopt robust, reproducible and consistent study design to enable more reliable and valid comparisons and conclusions to be made between studies. This article provides a comprehensive review of the current evidence supporting microbiome alterations in ME/CFS patients. Additionally, the pitfalls and challenges associated with microbiome studies are discussed.
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