A new study from scientists at Emory University, the Cleveland Clinic, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Abbott Diagnositics and featuring such medical luminaries as Drs. Eric Klein and Robert Silverman is providing information on the path of XMRV infection in primates, and surprisingly the possible triggers for activation of the retrovirus. The work was recently published in the Journal of Virology.
I have a long-standing interest in XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus) as my daughter with autism/seizures and my wife have both tested positive for the retrovirus. (My daughter has also recently tested positive for co-infection by HHV-6, type B.) I have tested negative for XMRV. While most of the recent commentary on XMRV has focused on its possible connection to chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, children with autism share many common clinical symptoms with the CFS/ME population, including immune disregulation, increased oxidative stress, expression of proinflammatory cytokines, low natural killer cell functionality, and active microbial infections.
A poster presentation entitled "Detection of Infectious XMRV in Peripheral Blood of Children" was made at the 1st International Workshop on XMRV in September of 2010 at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In a small sample it was found that 14 of 17 children (82%) of the children were positive for XMRV infection.
I was also intrigued to see that in the new book, The Myth of Autism by Dr. Michael Goldberg he marshalls abundant evidence of the commonalities between these two conditions, as well as receiving critical praise for his work from Dr. Nancy Klimas, one of the world's best known (and apparently beloved) experts on chronic fatigue syndrome/ME.
From the abstract of the study entitled, Infection, Viral Dissemination and antibody Response of Rhesus Macaques Exposed to the Human Gammaretrovirus XMRV, the authors explained, "XMRV was identified in association with human prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. To examine the infection potential, kinetics, and tissue distribution of XMRV in an animal model, we innoculated 5 macaques with XMRV intravenously. XMRV establised a persistent chronic disseminated infection, with low transient viremia and provirus in lymphocytes during acute infection. Although undetectable in blood after a month, XMRV viremia was reactivated at 9 month confirming the chronicity of the infection." HERE
The authors also noted in their abstract that, "Surprisingly, XMRV infection showed organ specific cell tropism: CD4 T cells in lymphoid organs including the gastrointestinal lamina propia, alveloar macrophages in lung, and epithelial,inerstitial cells in other organs, including the reproductive tract."
In an article for The Wall Street Journal by Amy Dockser Marcus she wrote, "The new monkey study illustrated some of the challenges that continue to perplex scientists. The animals showed signs of the virus in their blood right after being infected, but very soon afterward, those signs disappeared, making detection very tough. When monkeys were autopsied, however, organs including the spleen, lungs, and prostate contained XMRV-infected cells." Dr. Eric Klein, one of the coauthors and a Cleveland-Clinic prostate cancer surgeon said the virus appeared to set up a "genuine chronic infection" within a week, and although this did not prove causation of prostate cancer, the study did "raise important questions about the long-term consequences of XMRV infection." HERE
In their study the authors noted that, "In contrast, antibody responses were clearly elicited after the initial infection (Figure 5), boosted following reinfection, as well as after immunization." (p. 10) This finding caused Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a Columbia University professor on virology to note in his weekly blog, "One animal produced virus after immunization; perhaps immune activation results in cycles of virus production." HERE
Much research needs to be done before these questions can be answered, but they are vital questions. How many mothers out there were plagued by mysterious health problems, like my wife was, in the years prior to the birth of their children?
I commend the researchers for their ground-breaking work and encourage them to continue their pursuit. Millions of people with chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and possibly millions of families who deal with autism wait on the results of your findings.
Kent Heckenlively is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism