Lyme Disease – XMRV and its Origins

xmrv lyme disease virusThe Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), based at the University of Nevada, published research in 2009 showing that XMRV was “frequently present in the blood of patients with CFS”.  The biochemist leading the research team, Dr. Judy Mikovits, heralded this as a breakthrough that could revolutionize treatment options for millions of CFS sufferers.  The researchers also alluded to connections between Lyme disease, Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and CFS, with the implication that such conditions may also have an association with XMRV.

XMRV was identified in patient samples by Robert H. Silverman, a professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, who was also involved in the WPI research. The patients found by Dr. Silverman to be infected with XMRV all had a specific immune system defect that prevented them from fighting off viral infections as would normally happen.  Retroviruses, such as XMRV, have the effect of activating other latent viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, which itself has been linked to CFS.

Does XMRV ‘Trigger’ Other Viruses in Immune-Compromised Patients?


The researchers considered the possibility that the infection with XMRV in an already immune-compromised patient may then trigger other viruses leading to symptoms of CFS, and possible Lyme disease, MS, and fibromyalgia.  Lyme disease is, however, a bacterial infection, but the WPI continued to make claims regarding XMRV-associated diseases and even renamed CFS as XAND (X associated Neuro-immune Disease) much to the chagrin of many medical doctors.

The working hypothesis developed by the WPI was that XMRV infection could spread to immune system cells, such as B-Cells, T-Cells, and Natural Killer cells, and create chronic inflammation and immune deficiency in patients.  These patients would then be at the mercy of opportunistic infections as they were incapable of mounting an appropriate innate or humoral immune system response to infectious agents.  Shortly after ‘revealing’ the apparent connection between Lyme disease, XMRV, CFS, and numerous other conditions, a number of companies began selling test for the virus.  One company, VIP Dx created a XAND PCR/culture test and XNDS serology tests retailing at around $550-700.  Such tests had not been rigorously tested for accuracy themselves but were heavily marketed to patients with chronic illnesses, including CFS, and conditions such as Lyme disease and autism.

White Mouse xmrv virus lyme disease

XMRV, a murine (mouse) virus, has not been conclusively connected to human illnesses

Are 100% of Lyme Patients Infected with XMRV?

XMRV is a murine leukaemia virus that causes cancer and other diseases in mice, it cannot grow or infect cells from most mice however but can infect cells from other species.  Initial reports of XMRV in human samples came from a human prostate tumor in 2006, with further reports finding that 6-27% of human prostate cancers contained XMRV. The WPI paper claimed that 67% of CFS patients had the virus, and some doctors have said that they believe that 100% of Lyme disease patients are infected with XMRV.

The original prostate tumor sample from 2006 was shown however to have been infected in the laboratory with XMRV rather than for the virus to have been in the original human tumor itself.  The researchers examined the initial tumor xenografts and found no evidence of XMRV.  Following transplantation into laboratory mice, the tumor cells appear to have become infected with XMRV due to a recombinatio of two separate viruses present in the mice.  These viruses have now been described as PreXMRV-1 and PreXMRV-2 and each contain over 3,200 nucleotides.

XMRV – A Lab-Made Virus

Analysis of the genetic sequences of these two mouse viruses found that there are sections of DNA in each one which do not overlap with each other but are nearly identical to the genetic sequence of XMRV. The hypothesis then, is that the two viruses underwent recombination in the laboratory whilst the implanted tumor cells were being grown in a mouse during the research period between 1993 and 1996 leading to the development of XMRV.  Such recombination of virus genomes in cells infected with more than one virus is common but the chances of the same independent emergence of XMRV occurring outside of such a situation is extremely rare (one in a trillion or so).  Although many would like to find an explanation for chronic Lyme disease symptoms in a treatable virus such as XMRV, it appears that the evidence is against such a hypothesis.

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