Hanson Lab
The Biological Basis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

The disabling illness described as either Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) results in a wide spectrum of symptoms, the most disabling often being a profound lack of energy, muscle pain, headache, and cognitive issues.  The illness is also characterized by an increase in symptoms when in the upright position or following physical activity that would not be challenging to a healthy individual (post-exertional malaise).  The factors that incite and perpetuate the illness are unknown, few treatment options exist, and full recovery is rare.  We have previously investigated the possibility that a member of the murine retrovirus family could be involved.   While that virus has been eliminated as a suspect, the existence of one or more inciting pathogens has not been ruled out.  Well-documented outbreaks of ME/CFS implicate an infectious cause for at least some cases.  Rapid onset following a viral illness has been reported, though many individuals recount a more gradual onset with no clear single provocation.


Project: The Microbiome and ME/CFS

Many individuals with ME/CFS describe digestive disturbances.  These symptoms might result from altered composition of the gut microbiome, as is known in intestinal inflammatory diseases.  We are currently characterizing the gut bacterial microbiome in a cohort of ME/CFS patients vs. healthy controls, using 16S rRNA sequencing with an Illumina MiSeq.  We are determining the bacterial diversity within and between groups as well as the taxonomic composition of individuals and of the two populations.  These studies are in collaboration with Dr. Ruth Ley (Cornell Dept. of Microbiology/Molecular Biology and Genetics) and Dr. Susan Levine (Manhattan, NY).


Project: Mitochondria and ME/CFS

Dysfunction of mitochondria, the energy-generating organelle in human cells, is one hypothesis concerning the severe fatigue experienced by ME/CFS patients. To investigate whether there are genetic differences in the mitochondrial DNA of patients and healthy controls, we have sequenced the mitochondrial genome of a cohort of subjects recruited by the Chronic Fatigue Initiative.

A publication for this project was published in the Journal of Translational Medicine:
Mitochondrial DNA variants correlate with symptoms in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.
by Paul Billing-Ross, Arnaud Germain, Kaixiong Ye, Alon Keinan, Zhenglong Gu, and Maureen R. Hanson
J. Translational Medicine. 2016, 14:19

Click here for a simplified explanation of the JTM publication.

We are currently investigating the properties of mitochondria in white blood cells of patients and controls.


Project: Post-Exertional Malaise in ME/CFS

In collaboration with Dr. Betsy Keller in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance at Ithaca College, we are examining the physiological and molecular basis of the exercise intolerance characteristics of CFS/ME patients.   We are examining the effect of a maximal exercise stress test on gene expression, metabolism, inflammatory markers, and cytokine levels in ME/CFS patients and healthy controls.


Project: Immune Cells in ME/CFS

The activity of circulating leukocytes have been reported by various past studies to differ between ME/CFS patients and controls, possibly resulting from infectious agents, autoimmunity, or immune system disturbances.  Using subjects selected by Dr. Susan Levine (Manhattan, NY), Dr. Rita Shaknovich’s lab (Weill Cornell Medical School) has purified B, T, and NK cells for preparation of mRNAs, which will be characterized through Illumina sequencing of cDNA libraries at the Cornell Sequencing Facility and analyzed by Dr. Fabien Campagne’s group (Weill Cornell Medical School).  MicroRNAs and proteins encoded by dysregulated mRNA-encoding genes will be assayed in Cornell-Ithaca in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Grimson (Dept. of Molecular Biology and Genetics).  A goal of this project is to determine whether a molecular profile can be developed for use in diagnosis.


Project Sponsors


Maureen R. Hanson
Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor
Phone: 607-254-4833
Fax: 607-255-6249

Hanson Laboratory
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
321 Biotechnology Building
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-254-4832

View All Publications:
Maureen Hanson at NCBI Pubmed   Maureen Hanson at Google Scholar