Return On Your Investment: Kathleen Light, PhD


Principal Investigator: Kathleen Light, PhD

Institution: University of Utah

Collaborators:   Alan R. Light: University of Utah
Lucinda Bateman: Fatigue Consultation Clinic, Salt Lake City, Utah

Project Title: Novel ion channel-based biomarkers in CFS

Objective: Evaluate postexercise increases in acid-sensing and ion channel receptors on blood cells.


Figure from Journal of Internal Medicine

Preliminary Outcomes:

  • Support from a pharmaceutical company to conduct a treatment trial of FDA-approved medications.
  • Supplemental support from organizations supporting MS and fibromyalgia research to include additional comparison groups.
  • New R01 award from the National Institutes of Health, “Post-exercise ion channel gene expression biomarkers in CFS.” Total funding: $1,009,125. Link to award notice:
  • Several other grant applications are under review.


  • Moderate exercise increases expression for sensory, adrenergic and immune genes in CFS but not in normal subjects. Journal of Pain. 2009.
  • Gene expression alterations at baseline following moderate exercise in patients with CFS and fibromyalgia syndrome. Journal of Internal Medicine. May 26, 2011. Link:
  • Evidence for a heritable predisposition to CFS. BMC Neurology. May 27, 2011.
  • Additional manuscripts in preparation and under review.

CFS-subgroups-300x205Summary of Journal of Internal Medicine article:
Exercise Challenge Reveals Potential Biomarkers: Following up on earlier work, this University of Utah team has reported that a sustained moderate exercise challenge of 25 minutes provoked gene expression changes that meet published criteria for a “Very Good” to “Excellent” diagnostic tool for a subgroup of CFS patients studied. Forty-eight CFS patients were studied and two distinct subgroups were identified on the basis of changes to the α-2A receptor, a key regulator of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. The larger group of CFS subjects (71%) could be identified with a combination of four biomarkers (P2XR, α-2A, β-2 and IL10) at any time point within 48 hours following the exercise challenge with high specificity and sensitivity. The smaller group showed a large decrease in α-2A, opposite of the larger group. Most of the members of this subgroup had a clinical history of orthostatic intolerance. 18 subjects with fibromyalgia were also evaluated and a baseline marker combining 3 genes was identified. All subjects in the study (CFS and FM) exhibited post-exertional relapse of symptoms for at least 48 hours following the exercise task, but 49 healthy controls did not. (Link to detailed summary.)

What has the Association’s support meant to your research?

Dr. Light: “Support from the CFIDS Association for our research program on blood-based biomarkers of CFS/ME was vital in keeping this program alive. The data obtained using this support made it clear that we can use post-exertional gene expression for selected markers to differentiate patients with CFS from those with other disorders involving daily fatigue, like multiple sclerosis, as well as from healthy individuals. With this evidence in hand, we are also able to obtain a new RO1 award from the National Institutes of Health. This new NIH R01 grant will assess whether our post-exertional biomarkers can differentiate CFS from clinical depression. Objective biomarkers for CFS will be valuable in diagnosis and to help individualize treatments for specific patients. Thank you to the CFIDS Association and its generous donors for this very important support.”