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Gut Bacteria Differ in People with MS and May Respond to Disease-Modifying Therapies, Say Researchers Co-Funded by the National MS Society

June 28, 2016

Summary
  • Harvard researchers found significant differences between the gut bacteria of people with MS and without MS, and also between treated and untreated people with MS.
  • The differences included increases in bacteria associated with inflammation in people with MS, and suggestions that treatment may help “normalize” some of the MS-related changes seen in gut bacteria.
  • This study adds to growing evidence of the possible influence of gut bacteria on immune activity. Further study is needed to determine whether alterations in the gut microbiome play a role in MS disease activity, or are a consequence of it.
  • The National MS Society is funding The MS Microbiome Consortium, a comprehensive analysis of gut bacteria in people with MS to determine factors that may drive progression and to develop probiotic strategies for stopping progression.
  • This study was funded by the National MS Society, the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard Digestive Disease Center.
  • The team (Drs. Sushrut Jangi, Howard L. Weiner, and colleagues from Harvard’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston) has published results in Nature Communications (Published online June 28, 2016). 
Details
Background: MS involves immune-system attacks against the brain and spinal cord. The gut, including the small and large intestine, is the largest immune organ in mammals, including people. Each of us has millions of “commensal” bacteria living within our guts. Most of these bacteria are harmless as long as they remain in the inner wall of the intestine. They play a critical role in our normal physiology, and accumulating research suggests that they are critical in the establishment and maintenance of immune balance by the molecules they release.
 
The Study: Investigators used advanced genetic tools to look at gut bacteria (“microbiome”) in fecal samples from 60 people with MS and 43 people without MS. In the group with MS, 32 were “treated,” that is, had received interferon or glatiramer acetate for at least six months; 28 were “untreated,” meaning they had never had MS treatment, no steroids (for one month), no interferon or glatiramer acetate (for three months), and no other treatments (for six months).
 
The results show differences in gut bacteria between people with MS and people without MS, including increases in bacteria associated with inflammation in people with MS. These differences correlated with differences in the activity of genes related to the key pathways related to immune activity in MS. Also, there were differences in certain types of gut bacteria between treated and untreated people with MS, suggesting that treatment may help normalize some of the MS-related changes seen in gut bacteria.
 
The team (Drs. Sushrut Jangi Howard L. Weiner, and colleagues from Harvard’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston) has published results in Nature Communications (Published online June 28, 2016).
 
Next Steps: This study adds to growing evidence of the possible influence of gut bacteria on immune activity. Further study is needed to determine whether alterations in the gut microbiome play a role in MS disease activity, or are a consequence of it. The authors note the possibility that treatment strategies of MS in the future may include some designed to affect the microbiome, such as probiotics. The National MS Society continues to fund research in this area, most recently The MS Microbiome Consortium, a comprehensive analysis of gut bacteria in people with MS to determine factors that may drive progression and develop probiotic strategies for stopping progression.
 
Read more about research on diet and MS
Read about diet and nutrition in MS

 

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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