Researchers from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Department of Neurology have traced a previously observed link between microbes in the gut — known collectively as the gut microbiome — and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The study conducted in genetically altered mice and people supports the belief that dietary adjustments such as increased fibre may slow MS progression. The researchers are already working to test the effect of diet interventions in MS patients.
“Unhealthy dietary habits such as low fibre and high fat intakes may have contributed to the steep rise of MS in the US”, the researchers stated. “In nations where people still eat more fibre, MS is far less common.”
About multiple sclerosis
MS is a degenerative condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the protective covering of nerves in the brain, spinal cord and eyes. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, it affects nearly 1 million adults in the United States. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world – with over 90,000 people living with MS - 1 in every 400 people.
Globally, females are at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with MS. While MS can occur at any age, the average age of diagnosis is 32 years. MS also occurs in children and teenagers.
The new research
Previous studies have differentiated the microbiomes of MS patients and healthy subjects, but as they all noted different abnormalities, it wasn’t possible to tell what change, if any, was driving disease progression.
The Rutgers study used mice engineered with MS-associated genes to trace the link between alterations in the gut bacteria and an MS-like condition called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).
As these mice matured — and simultaneously developed EAE and a gut inflammatory condition called colitis — the researchers observed increased recruitment of inflammatory cells (neutrophils) to the colon and production of an anti-microbial protein called lipocalin 2 (Lcn-2).
The study team then looked for evidence that the same process occurred in people with MS and found significantly elevated Lcn-2 levels in patient stool. This marker correlated with reduced bacterial diversity and increased levels of other markers of intestinal inflammation.
Additionally, bacteria that seem to ease inflammatory bowel disease were reduced in MS patients with higher levels of fecal Lcn-2.
The findings suggest that fecal Lcn-2 levels may be a sensitive marker for detecting unhealthy changes in the gut microbiome of MS patients. It also provides further evidence that high-fibre diets, which reduce gut inflammation, may help fight MS.
Rutgers is looking to test that hypothesis soon and is recruiting patients with MS for a trial that will determine how their microbiomes and immune systems are affected by a high-fibre supplement developed by a Rutgers microbiologist.
Source: Frontiers in Immunology, December 15, 2022.
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