Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an idiopathic disorder characterized by fatigue that is markedly exacerbated by physical exertion. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that mild exercise (walking 1 mph [1 mile = 1.609 km] for 30 min) would provoke serum cytokine and cerebral blood flow abnormalities of potential pathogenic importance in CFS. Interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha were nondetectable in sera of CFS patients (n = 10) and healthy control subjects (n = 10) pre- and postexercise. At rest, serum transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) levels were elevated in the CFS group compared with the control group (287 +/- 18 versus 115 +/- 5 pg/ml, respectively; P < 0.01). Serum TGF-beta and cerebral blood flow abnormalities, detected by single-photon emission-computed tomographic scanning, were accentuated postexercise in the CFS group. Although these findings were not significantly different from those in the control group, the effect of exercise on serum TGF-beta and cerebral blood flow appeared magnified in the CFS patients. Results of this study encourage future research on the interaction of physical exertion, serum cytokines, and cerebral blood flow in CFS that will adopt a more rigorous exercise program than the one used in this study.