Specific Gut Bacteria May Drive Progression of Multiple Sclerosis, Study Finds

Specific Gut Bacteria May Drive Progression of Multiple Sclerosis, Study Finds

Specific gut bacteria may drive the progression of multiple sclerosis, according to a study showing that two bacterial species made the disease worse in a mouse model of MS.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco also pinpointed a species — found in lower numbers in MS patients — that had protective properties in mice with the condition. This demonstrated the power that gut microbes have over the immune system in MS.

The study could be the first step toward therapies that target these gut inhabitants as a way of obtaining control over the disease.

Researchers published the study, “Gut bacteria from multiple sclerosis patients modulate human T cells and exacerbate symptoms in mouse models,” in the journal PNAS,

Our closest environmental link

What prompted researchers to look at the microbiome was the knowledge that genetics play a relatively small part in the risk of someone developing MS.

“The field has been very successful in identifying genes associated with susceptibility to MS, but I’ve never been satisfied with amount of risk that we’ll be able to explain with just genetics,” Sergio Baranzini, a neurology professor who was the senior investigator of the study, said in a university news release.

“Even identical twins, who share the same genetic inheritance, only share an MS diagnosis about 35 percent of the time,” he said. “It’s clear the genome is important, but environmental factors must also play a major role.”

Another clue to the role of environmental factors is a surge in autoimmune diseases, including MS, in the past century, researchers said.

But environmental factors are often difficult to associate with a condition. Yet, research in the past decade has made it clear that our gut is directly linked to the actions of the immune system. This close connection prompted researchers to look at whether clues to MS could be found in the gut.

In 2014, they started delving in to the role of bacteria in MS.

“This was such a novel question, especially at that time,” said Egle Cekanaviciute, a postdoctoral researcher on the team and first author of the study. “No one had looked at the microbiome in MS. Almost no one had looked at the role of gut microbes beyond digestive diseases.”

To start the investigation, the team recruited 71 relapsing-remitting MS patients and as many healthy controls.

They analyzed their gut microbiome — the entire collection of bacteria residing in the intestines. While they did not find any differences between patients and controls when looking at groups and families of bacteria, they did identify two species that were more common in MS and one that was less common.

Looking for relevance

“A lot of microbiome studies say, ‘These bacteria are increased in patients with a disease, and those bacteria are reduced.’ And then they stop,” Cekanaviciute said. “We wanted to know more. Should we care about the ones that are increased because they are harmful, or the ones that are decreased because perhaps they are helpful? What do these microbes actually do that could have an impact on people’s health?”

To answer these questions, the team first exposed human immune cells, grown in a lab, to components of the bacteria, using a crude bacterial extract.

It turned out that the two species found in higher numbers in patients — Akkermansia (A.) muciniphila and Acinetobacter (A.) calcoaceticus — increased inflammatory in the lab-grown cells.

The species that was reduced in patients, Parabacteroides (P.) distasonis, stepped up protective regulatory immune actions.

Researchers then separately introduced each of these bacteria into mice that had been raised with a microbe-free gut. This would allow each species to dominate the animal’s gut flora.

The mice reacted in much the same way the cells did in the previous experiment. The bacteria that were more common in MS triggered an inflammatory response in the animals, and the one that was reduced hampered inflammation by boosting regulatory T-cells, or Tregs.

Twice the evidence

Since one dominant species is not a typical scenario in humans, the team also wanted to examine how the bacteria would influence an animal with an intact gut flora.

One of their experiments involved transplanting fecal matter from humans to mice. They use three MS patients and three paired controls from the same households. The transplants demonstrated that the bacteria had the power to influence disease.

Mice that had MS fecal transplants developed a more severe disease and had lower numbers of helpful Tregs in their blood. This finding suggested that gut bacteria alone have the power to influence disease progression in MS.

Interestingly, this was not the only study coming to the same conclusion. Cekanaviciute and Baranzini also contributed to a study at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. There, researchers used a different mouse model of MS with the same fecal transplant approach, and got the same results.

“Two different groups, using two separate cohorts of patients and controls, and two distinct mouse models of the disease, saw very similar results. This is very promising evidence that we’re on the right track,” Cekanaviciute said.

New treatments

The researchers hope other scientists pick up their findings to better understand if, and how, the bacteria contribute to MS.

“To be clear, we don’t think the microbiome is the only trigger of MS,” Cekanaviciute said. “But it looks like these microbes could be making the disease progression worse or better — pushing someone with genetic predisposition across the threshold into disease or keeping them safe.”

Other environmental factors likely play a part in the development and progression of the disease as well, researchers said.

So far, the team has found some clues to what might be going on. One of the bacteria found in higher numbers in MS patients produces proteins  similar to those found in myelin. Researchers think that the immune system could confuse the factors to attack myelin in addition to the bacteria. Scientists say deterioration of the myelin shield that protects neurons is the cause of MS.

Researchers also think that the bacterial species found in lower numbers in MS help prevent the immune system from attacking harmless gut microbes. Without these helpful species, the immune system might overreact to gut bacteria.

Further insights could lead to new ways of treating MS, researchers believe.

“The microbiome is very malleable,” they wrote. “You could relatively easily change it in an adult who has MS or is susceptible — something you cannot do with their genetics. This is not a magical approach, but it is hopeful.”


Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
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    • Magdalena Kegel says:

      Hi Susan,
      I believe that this issue has not been investigated yet, as researchers just recently found the importance of these specific bacteria. I believe future studies will have to tell how various treatment affect their presence in the MS gut, and so, how they impact disease.

        • Mandy S says:

          Not sure if you mean recent trouble with walking, but someone I know who had trouble walking switched doctors and they did many things different than her first doctor and she was able to walk again without a cane and her leg dragging stopped as well. She always tells people all about these doctors because she feels they are more advanced and other doctors don’t even know about some of their treatments. She goes to New York, and loves her doctor there. I realize every case is different but she always wants people to know about these doctors since they helped her so much when other doctors couldn’t.

          • Susan Smith says:

            That is a very good result , I wonder what the Doctors in NY did ? and how they treated her ? I’m in the UK I have SPMS I don’t take any medications but have just started on probiotics .

    • Kelly says:

      I have been taking the probiotic VSL#3 for 6 weeks and I have seen a difference. There have been studies with this specific probiotic for MS. It’s available at pharmacy’s. The capsules do not require a doctors prescription. I have secondary progressive MS

        • Jessica says:

          Just so you know, the original VSL#3 is now called Visbiome in the U.S. and Canada (and perhaps also in Britain), and Vivomixx in Australia. I happen to have researched this in depth for our son’s IBD (including C.diff), and to have used it myself as part of a protocol to deal with severe dysentery caused by Giardia lamblia infection. A significant number of users who had C.diff have cured themselves with this excellent probiotics; others with severe IBD have been unable to tolerate one of the bacteria in it (Strep. thermophilus) until their guts were better healed. But most people tolerate it well. Whilst FMT (faecal microbiome / mirobial transplant therapy) is far and away the best way to treat many so-called “auto-immune” conditions, outstanding probiotics like Visbiome / Vivomixx (both formerly VSL#3) can go a very long way to reversing and even fully curing these conditions. For our son, FMT was a major factor in his eventual recovery. I would be happy to pass on the research I have done on both Visbiome (Vivomixx, formerly VSL#3) and FMT if you would like. Very best wishes: fighting these battles mostly along, and often with minimal help from “proper” doctors, is often terrifying. You have all my sympathy.

          • Eddy F says:

            Hello Jessica,

            It would be great if you can share your research. I suffer from IBD and have an MS predisposition (father, grandfather). I am trying to change my diet accordingly.


    • ken wallace says:

      see if you can find any info relayed to MS and fecal transplants and also MS and clostridium. I am convinced that our bacteria…whether it is normal to us or has been genetically altered by outside bacteria and or virus; is the root cause of MS and several other autoimmune diseases. There is a huge amount of anecdotal AND clinical evidence to support this notion…especially concerning RA and AS…and some references to MS and clostridium. While an unpleasant thought; fecal transplant may be the best available treatment at this time…coupled with specific diets (the fermented foods are a logical one i think)..and probiotics.

    • Deborah Bigda says:

      Susan, I know of people who have started a particular supplement regiment that has been clinically proven to improve the microbiome and while it does not cure MS the people have noticed improvements in their symptoms. If you are interested I can give you information from these people. Prayers for you!!

    • Truc Phuong Nguyen says:

      Although no specific treatment had been created, you can certainly start by eating a clean food, cutting out simple table sugar/simple carbs (white bread, white rice, pasta, noodles, etc) – and increasing your variety in vegetables, fruits, and you must easy healthy fats… In addition, you need to take Prebiotics and Probiotics… These things are a good start but certainly there’s more to it… I’m a family physician and have been studying and now working with a neurologist on rebuilding the integrity of the guts in GA…I hope this helps.

    • Sandra says:

      Hi Susan. I have recently found a new mental wellness company that is the only one concentrating on the gut-brain axis. I suffer from fibromyalgia and it has helped me emencely.

    • Joylin says:

      Just a note from my own research. The way I found out about this was because in researching naturally fermented foods for gut health I found that there have been several documented cases of healing “incurable” autoimmune diseases, including Ms, with fermented food treatment regimens. It’s not a pill, but really dietary changes are better as you can follow your body’s reactions and cravings much more close look y that way to learn what is working for you.

      And talking to your doctor about this is obviously a thing you should do, but I also think eating yogurt and sauerkraut, etc., is pretty low risk.

      Some big keys:

      raw (living) sauerkraut and its juice (this one is like magic medicine, it’s my life saver. Available in health food stores and pretty easy to make.)


      Kefir and/or yogurt (non dairy versions available)

      Raw honey (full of live enzymes)

      Raw milk from happy and loved cows or goats (also PACKED full of live enzymes – for me this is the best/most complete medicine for almost any problem I have, actually)

      Sourdough bread (I bake gluten-free sourdough and it has been a life saver. It is what ended my violent and frequent siezures.)

      Okay! I am not a doctor! Just sharing for informational purposes but I encourage you to research further as well. I think you’ll find much more if you look for whole food probiotics and info on them than trying to find a supplement. The autoimmune damage is largely about nutrient absorption, and eating the actual fermented foods with all of their nutrients (made absorbable by fermentation) is just as important as the bacteria themselves.

      Good luck, happy learning, and may you find some healing!

    • Jessica says:

      Sorry to appear a pain, but, dear Phil (and dear suffering Susan), Cabbage is truly a miracle food. And for those who can handle it (it can cause a histamine reaction in sensitive individuals), fermented cabbage (Sauerkraut – German for sour cabbage) can be a live-saver (as also, N.B., can non-fermented cabbage, and juiced cabbage: check out Jason Vale’s books on juicing). Some people have even cured themselves of dangerous infections such as C. diff by drinking fresh cabbage juice.

      You can make Sauerkraut (which is just lacto-fermented cabbage with water and salt) taste less sour by slathering it in melted butter, or good quality fresh (unadulterated) cream; or just mix it with good old mashed potato (and of course lots of butter in that). (And BTW, unless you are very dairy intolerant, good butter IS a good fat! So: no guilt!)

      Oh yes: and chewing on raw cabbage cleans your teeth. Aaaaand cabbage is high in glutathione, a fantastically hard-working molecule that is vital for cellular energy in our bodies. So: please try not to hurt cabbage’s feelings, as it was created to help you, not harm you! AND it is CHEAP!!!

      If you want to make a start on educating yourself on the Big Picture of nutrition, I highly recommend ‘Nourishing Traditions’ by Drs. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig; published by the Weston Price Foundation (which also has an excellent website) and widely available. It contains a combination of easy-to-understand scientific information, plus recipes and all sorts of useful resources; and it is inexpensive and makes a nice-looking addition to one’s kitchen recipe book shelf. It really helped me to get my bearings for helping out our son.

      Prayer and supportive well wishes to you all. : )

  1. LuAnn Sullivan says:

    I suggest you read/or view on You Tube about leaky gut syndrome and Terry Wahls, MD who had SPMS was wheelchair bound and healed herself with diet. I have RRMS, I use a cane for gait instability. I quit taking MS meds in December 2016. At that time I started taking Probiotics and a diet eliminating gluten, soy, sugar, dairy, and peanuts/legumes. I eat fish (no meats or chicken), veggies, fruits, nuts, and gluten free grains. I have had annual MRI of brain and C spine since 2012 and every year new lesions showed up. On Aug 30,2017 I had MRIs and this is the first time that there were no new lesions. I attribute this to the diet that I have been on. I strongly suggest you all consider dietary changes. Since on this diet and Probiotics I have less brain fog, more core energy, I feel stronger, although I do still fight fatigue. I find myself exercising more routinely which improves my muscle strength. People who know me tell me that I look healthier and stronger. I wish you all good health and improvement in your MS.

    • Lori says:

      No gluten or sugar for me, now no meds either. Just vitamins, turmeric, and a probiotic. RRMS but things are feeling mostly normal. Thank God!

      • Allan says:

        Turmeric will cause painful gallstones and you may lose this organ after many years of using this spice. It’s not a cure-all. Do more research for safer alternatives. Avoid anything standardized as it doesn’t appear in that manner in nature which only spells trouble.

  2. Gwen Hamer says:

    Are there any probiotics or other drinks, foods etc that contain the parabacteroides good bacteria that’s mentioned in the article. I would think it’s worth giving it a try.

    Ps the Rowling Clinic in Edinburgh is researching gut bacteria in MS patients. They are comparing the bacteria of MS patients to people living with them who don’t have MS.

    • Allan says:

      You don’t need to buy expensive probiotics. Make your own. Ferment onions in still water and a sterile glass jar, wait a couple days. Home made contains billions more varied bacteria that will outdo any store-bought product. You can either choose an inferior, store-bought product, or you can make your own and experience incredible healing. Sterility is key, and it doesn’t have to be cabbage. Lots of YouTube videos. Good luck.

  3. ME/CFS sufferer here. In our circle of influence the connection to MS, autoimmune, and even gulf war syndrom is well known. The gut is complicit and may even be the cause for many of us.

    My story at our2ndbrain.com tells of performing homemade Fecal Transplant but using an oral delivery system that resulted in remission.

    Probiotics are a big gamble, you may even make yourself worse. Dont take my word on any of this, look up..
    A. Clinicaltrials.gov show 196 active trials for Fecal Transplant for many chronic illnesses, remember that phase 3 means that phase 2 WORKED.

    B. How probiotics are catastrophicly incomplete and have equal chance of making your worse than better. Anecdotes mean nothing.

    I welcome different opinions, but the science is really starting to show that this (FMT) could be the magic bullet. You can do this at home safely and legally while the FDA doesnt have it approved yet.

  4. bd says:

    The only real potentially long term solution to change the gut microbiome is with fmt. I have done it myself for my own immune health issues. I also believe throught my research that ms is more closely related to gut health than we realize. I am wondering if anyone has had an fmt to try to help with ms. I would like to hear from you.

  5. Nutshell88 says:

    I suffer RRMS since 2004. Was 17 years old when I was diagnosed.
    On gilenya right now. second treatment I stopped treatments 9 years in the past not disabled.
    Do you think any upcomming drug regarding to the guy would interact with the fact I’ve been on gilenya in 2019 just

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