Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

11 October 2018 - Neuroscience News - Link Between Gut Flora and Multiple Sclerosis Discovered

University of Zurich

microbiome

A new study reports T cells are activated in the intestines and migrate to the brain, causing an inflammatory cascade that may lead to multiple sclerosis. Researchers say the gut microbiome may play a more significant role in the development and progression of MS than previously believed.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

This new study suggests that specific types of bacteria in the gut may 'prime' immune cells to trigger the auto-immune attacks on brain and nerve tissue that characterise multiple sclerosis (MS) and are directly responsible for its symptoms.

While this isn't the first time that gut microbiome has been implicated in MS, these results will hopefully assist the ongoing work by this research team, who have been investigating possible ways to 're-train' the immune cells involved so that they no longer attack normal brain and nerve cells.

These findings also provide potential insights into the existing evidence that in those with genetic vulnerability, MS symptoms may in part be triggered and/or regulated by some aspects of diet - as this plays a major role in determining the balance of the innumerable different kinds of bacteria hosted in the human gut.

Read the underlying research here:
See also:

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks and damages the protective coating around nerve cells. This coating is made up of myelin – a biological membrane of protein and fatty substances – which is why research efforts to find the disease’s target antigen have so far focused on the myelin membrane’s components. New findings made by the research group of Mireia Sospedra and Roland Martin from the University of Zurich’s Clinical Research Priority Program Multiple Sclerosis now suggest that it is worth broadening the research perspective to gain a better understanding of the pathological processes.

Inflammatory cascade

In the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists report that T cells – i.e. the immune cells responsible for pathological processes – react to a protein called GDP-L-fucose synthase. This enzyme is formed in human cells as well as in bacteria frequently found in the gastrointestinal flora of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.

We believe that the immune cells are activated in the intestine and then migrate to the brain, where they cause an inflammatory cascade when they come across the human variant of their target antigen,” says Mireia Sospedra.

For the genetically defined subgroup of MS patients examined by the researchers, results show that gut microbiota could play a far greater role in the pathogenesis of the disease than previously assumed. Mireia Sospedra hopes that these findings can soon also be translated into therapy; she plans to test the immunoactive components of GDP-L-fucose synthase using an approach that the researchers have been pursuing for several years already.

Re-educating the immune system

“Our clinical approach specifically targets the pathological autoreactive immune cells,” says Sospedra. This approach therefore differs radically from other treatments that are currently available, which throttle the whole immune system. While these treatments often succeed in stopping the progression of the disease, they also weaken the immune system – and can thus cause severe side effects.

The clinical approach of the research group involves drawing blood from MS patients in a clinical trial and then attaching the immunoactive protein fragments onto the surface of red blood cells in a laboratory. When the blood is reintroduced into the bloodstream of patients, the fragments help to “re-educate” their immune system and make it “tolerate” its own brain tissue. This therapeutic approach aims for effective targeted treatment without severe side effects.