Study: Gut Bacteria’s Role in Multiple Sclerosis

Gut bacteria has been known to play a role in a number of conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. A new study has discovered a connection between this bacteria and multiple sclerosis (MS). Published in Science Immunology, this study found that gut bacteria plays a protective role in MS flare-ups.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder that affects the sending of signals from the brain to the body. When one has this disorder, their immune systems attack myelin, which is the protective covering of nerve cells.  In severe cases, these nerves can be damaged permanently. There are two types of MS, relapsing/remitting or progressive. The former is characterized by long periods without symptoms followed by episodes of intense symptoms. Progressive MS does not include periods without symptoms, instead people constantly feel the effects of the disorder. It can result in the loss of daily function.

There is no known cause for MS. It is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the immune system attacks parts of the body, in this case myelin. These attacks result in the slowing or blockage of neuro messages. It is suspected that there is a hereditary element, but a combination of genetics and environmental factors are most likely the cause. What is known is that this disorder can occur at any age, but is most common from the ages of 15 to 60, and females are twice as likely to have it.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary from patient to patient; all parts of the body can be affected. Muscles in the extremities and the eyes are most commonly affected. The first symptoms often appear between the ages of 20 to 40, which could be weakness, numbness, loss of coordination and balance, or problems with speech, vision, and bladder control. While there is currently no cure for MS, specific symptoms can be treated.

Gut Bacteria and MS

The major finding of the study was that gut bacteria travels from the gastrointestinal system to the brain during an MS episode, where it plays a protective role and helps to rid one of symptoms. The cells that were found to help the most were IgA-producing B cells.

When in the gut, the role of these cells is to protect against any invader and stop gut bacteria from growing out of control. In the brain, they serve to reduce inflammation.

Researchers discovered these things by analyzing stool samples; IgA-producing B cells were found. The next step was to see what these cells do when one experiences an acute flare-up. Using samples from 56 MS patients, they were able to find concentrations of the IgA B cells in the cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue. However, these cells were not present when patients were in remission. Essentially, they travel to the brain when it is inflamed with the goal of reducing inflammation.

The next step of research was to see what these cells react to. While medical professionals are still not entirely sure what triggers them to move to the brain, they have found that certain bacteria cause a response in the IgA B cells.

While more needs to be learned about the connection between gut bacteria and MS, this study opens up a new line of research. Hopefully this information will lead to a better understanding of MS and eventually treatments.

Find the source article here.

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