The role of the microbiome and its association with multiple sclerosis was the topic of several sessions and papers at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) 2017 Forum. More than 800 researchers and clinicians attended the second annual meeting in Orlando last week to hear the most recent MS research news.
Irah King, PhD, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Immunology at McGill University, was the first of three speakers in a featured session on the microbiome and MS. His talk, “An Introduction to the Microbiome and Disease,” focused on understanding more how the human microbiota in our bodies influence our health, particularly with creating conditions that make MS active.
Quite striking is how new this field of study is. King shared in the year 2000 there were fewer than 100 peer review articles published on the microbiome or microbiota. That number has climbed to more than 10,000 articles in 2016, with researchers looking at not only MS, but also autism, epilepsy, stroke and other disorders.
King shared with the audience the following ways these common definitions are used in discussing the human gut:
- Microbiota – The microbes that reside in and on any object or organism. 1,014 bacteria inhabit the intestine.
- Microbiome – The genetic composition of the microbiota
- Commensal – A microbe that is a stable component of the microbiota
- Symbiosis – Cooperative relationship between host and microbe
- Dysbiosis – Imbalance or pathological relationship between host and microbe due to environmental or genetic perturbation”
The microbiota, or the microbes that are found in the human gut (the intestines) are influenced by many factors, including genetics, age, stress, hygiene, infections and the use of antibiotics. King also noted the gut is influenced by diet, the intake of fiber and obesity. There are any number of perturbations, or outside influences, which may change the gut microbiome.
It is important to remember that all microbiota are not bad and there is an important need for bacteria in our systems, and it is how our system responds to that change that has the interest of researchers such as King. One area being explored is the possibility that there is an MS microbiome, either genetically or externally introduced.
King also suggests researchers take a further look at the brain-to-gut axis, and perhaps the change in the microbiota might occur from either direction. Currently it is thought the gut influences the brain, but it also may be possible the brain is influencing the gut, and suggests the limited evidence supports further studies to understand how the gut and the brain work together in our system.
King shared examples of studies where gut samples from people with MS were compared to controls, people who were not affected by this disease, and the initial findings support this idea of the person with MS responding differently to perturbation. They are able to do this by taking samples from all subjects and using them in mice to study responses.
The limited studies also show differences between people with MS and how their microbiomes responded to perturbation (outside influence), making a universal approach to treatment for MS not likely, said King. He does think that further studies may find a “personalized approach to harnessing the power of the microbiota for MS therapies.”
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