A study has found that microbes in your gut may influence the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). It could be a key step towards specific treatment, and help solve what causes MS.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two different teams conducted separate research and made the same findings. One was from the University of California, San Francisco, and the other from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
The first team investigated the gut microbiomes of 71 MS patients and 71 control subjects. They identified specific species of bacteria that were more common in the former than the latter. Next, they exposed these bacteria to human immune cells, and found that two species triggered cells to become pro-inflammatory. One found at lower levels triggered immune responses.
In tests on mice, they found that these bacteria had a similar effect. Replacing mice microbiomes with those from an MS patient caused the mice to lose immune-regulatory cells and develop neurodegeneration, a pathway to MS.
The second study came to a similar conclusion, finding that microbiome transplants could increase symptoms in mice.
"Two different groups, using two separate cohorts of patients and controls, and two distinct mouse models of the disease, saw very similar results," Egle Cekanaviciute said in a statement, who was involved in both studies. "This is very promising evidence that we're on the right track."
MS affects about 2.5 million people across the globe, and is known as an autoimmune neurodegenerative disorder. It can lead to loss of vision, weakness, and even paralysis. It’s caused by the immune system attacking the insulation around nerve cells, called myelin, but scientists have been at a loss to explain why this occurs.
These latest studies could provide an answer. While the microbiome probably isn’t the only trigger, it could play a role. This could lead to some new treatments in the future to help tackle MS.
"The microbiome is very malleable," said Sergio Baranzini, also involved in both studies. "You could relatively easily change it in an adult who has MS or is susceptible – something you cannot do with their genetics. This is not a magical approach, but it is hopeful."