The Foundation Research Project:

A role for a leaky gut and the intestinal microbiota in the pathophysiology
of myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Thanks to extraordinary efforts, visionary ideas, tremendous generosity and sheer hard work and dedication patients and their carers and families and friends have helped initiate the foundation project for a start on biomedical research into ME, beginning the first element in a proposal to establish an examination and research facility for ME in the UK.

It is not often realised that 60-70% of the immune system is located in the gut as a vast network of lymph tissue referred to as GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue). The foundation research project, initially highlighted in the IiME proposal for a UK research centre in 2010, will utilise The Genome Analysis Centre’s sequencing facility at the Norwich Research Park to allow all known and unknown viruses present in faecal samples from a cohort of well defined patients to be identified and will examine the possible link between ME and gut inflammation.

Study Details

Recent studies [Fluge et al (2011) Plos ONE 6:e26358] point to a link between autoimmunity and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME or ME/CFS).

Autoimmune reactions lead to inflammation, increased permeability of blood vessels and migration of lymphocytes to sites of injury. Microglia within the brain can be primed during chronic inflammatory diseases, but can then induce inflammation in the brain when they are triggered by a second inflammatory challenge such as a systemic microbial infection. This raises the possibility that the damaging neuro-inflammation seen during ME may be triggered by systemic infections.

The gastrointestinal tract contains a microbiota consisting of a vast number of bacteria and viruses. The microbiota can influence intestinal barrier function and host defence against microbial challenge. Changes in the microbiota can cause local and systemic chronic inflammation. This project will determine if alterations in intestinal barrier function and/or microbiota exist in ME patients, and whether microbe-driven inflammatory responses can provide an explanation for the pathophysiology of ME.

    • The cohort selected will fit the Canadian Consensus Criteria and include the severely affected. Patients with co-morbid conditions will be excluded.


    • The studentship will be based in the Norwich Medical School and the Institute for Food Research at Norwich Research Park.


    • The student will analyse serum samples from patients with ME for integrity of intestinal barrier function.


    • Faecal samples from patients will be analysed by high throughput pyrosequencing and appropriate bioinformatics to profile the microbiota in terms of bacteria and virus populations.


    • Parallel studies will assess microbiota metabolism by LC/MS/NMR analysis by the IFR Metabolomics Partnership.


This foundation research project is the first element in the proposal to establish an examination and research facility for ME in the UK and will enable a database to be established for use in further research.

See the Invest in ME May 2013 announcement here.

See the Invest in ME December 2013 Foundation Project full status update here.