Microbiome study reveals inflammatory pathways linked to multiple sclerosis

The collective microenvironment of gut bacteria, called the gut microbiome, has come to receive attention in many research labs for its involvement in inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease that worsens over the patient’s life, and treatment remains ineffective.

Now, Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers have found that two types of bacteria present in the gut ar significantly elevated in patients with MS. The findings may change how clinicians diagnose and potentially treat the disease.  

Howard Weiner and his team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers studied fecal samples from 63 people with MS and 43 people without the disease. They used a technique called 16S rRNA sequencing to examine the different species of bacteria present in the gut.

The overall microbiome diversity was unchanged, but when they looked at the composition of bacteria they found Methanobrevibacter and Akkermansia bacteria to be elevated in MS patients. The type of treatment the MS patients were on wasn’t affecting the microbiome, because the results were the same in both treated and untreated patients.

They then studied the levels of related genes in T cells and found a correlation between the presence of these two types of bacteria and inflammatory pathways and activation of interferon--increasing proportionally to the amount of these gut bacteria present.

They finally analyzed breath samples from these patients and found a slight elevation in the level of methane, which matches the findings of the 16S rRNA sequencing, since these two bacteria are known to produce methane in the gut.

The authors hope that this finding will help to provide a new angle for diagnosing MS and potentially carve out how drugs are developed to fight the degenerative disease.

- here’s the Nature Communications abstract
- see the release

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