Background Myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a common, long-term condition characterised by post-exertional malaise, often with fatigue that is not significantly relieved by rest. ME/CFS has no confirmed diagnostic test or effective treatment and we lack knowledge of its causes. Identification of genes and cellular processes whose disruption adds to ME/CFS risk is a necessary first step towards development of effective therapy.
Methods Here we describe DecodeME, an ongoing study co-produced by people with lived experience of ME/CFS and scientists. Together we designed the study and obtained funding and are now recruiting up to 25,000 people in the UK with a clinical diagnosis of ME/CFS. Those eligible for the study are at least 16 years old, pass international study criteria, and lack any alternative diagnoses that can result in chronic fatigue. These will include 5,000 people whose ME/CFS diagnosis was a consequence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Questionnaires are completed online or on paper. Participants’ saliva DNA samples are acquired by post, which improves participation by more severely-affected individuals. Digital marketing and social media approaches resulted in 29,000 people with ME/CFS in the UK pre-registering their interest in participating. We will perform a genome-wide association study, comparing participants’ genotypes with those from UK Biobank as controls. This should generate hypotheses regarding the genes, mechanisms and cell types contributing to ME/CFS disease aetiology.
Discussion The DecodeME study has been reviewed and given a favourable opinion by the North West – Liverpool Central Research Ethics Committee (21/NW/0169). Relevant documents will be available online (www.decodeme.org.uk). Genetic data will be disseminated as associated variants and genomic intervals, and as summary statistics. Results will be reported on the DecodeME website and via open access publications.


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Devereux-Cooke, A., Leary, S., McGrath, S., Northwood, E., Redshaw, A., Shepherd, C., Stacey, P., Tripp, C., Wilson, J., Mar Countess of Mar, M., Boobyer, D., Bromiley, S., Chowdhury, S., Dransfield, C., Almas, M., Almelid, Ø., Buchanan, D., Garcia, D., Ireland, J., Lewis, I., Migdal, M., McDowall, E., Murray, P., Perry, D., Ponting, C., Vitart, V. & Wolfe, J. 2022, 'DecodeME: Community recruitment for a large genetics study of myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome', BMC Neurology, 22(269). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12883-022-02763-6

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Last updated: 26 May 2023
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