Retraction May End Search for Virus–Chronic Fatigue Link

Citing author omissions and evidence of laboratory contamination, the journal Science has retracted a controversial article linking chronic fatigue syndrome and xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus. (Image:

A controversial study that linked chronic fatigue syndrome with a virus has been retracted by the journal Science today, marking a bitter end to a thread of research many patients hoped would lead to effective therapies for the disorder.

The study by Lombardi et al, which suggested xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV) may be associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, was published in Science in October 2009. At the time many patients heralded it as a breakthrough for the disorder, which has faced skepticism by some in the medical community because of a lack of a biological explanation for fatigue and other symptoms associated with the disorder.

But subsequent efforts by other researchers and the original authors have not reliably replicated the results, according to the retraction written by Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts. In July, Alberts wrote a letter expressing concerns about the article, noting that 2 studies published in the same issue provided evidence that contamination of laboratories and research reagents with XMRV were the most likely explanation for the results in the Lombardi et al article. Later in September, some authors of the article retracted portions of the article citing contamination of some samples. In addition to the evidence pointing to laboratory and reagent contamination, Alberts noted that the authors omitted information from a figure. Despite support from some of the authors for a retraction of the Lombardi et al article, Alberts said a retraction endorsed by all the authors was “unlikely to be forthcoming.” So the journal chose to retract the article.

“We regret the time and resources that the scientific community has devoted to unsuccessful attempts to replicate these results,” he said.

Categories: Journalology/Peer Review/Authorship, Musculoskeletal Syndromes (Chronic Fatigue, Gulf War)