Exposure to epsilon toxin (ETX), which is mainly found in livestock, could be linked to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), new research suggests.
The study, “Evidence of Clostridium perfringens epsilon toxin associated with multiple sclerosis,” appeared in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
ETX is one of 12 protein toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens. It can be found in soil and may lead to a life-threatening gut disease in goats, sheep, and cattle.
Epsilon toxin has mainly been studied as the cause of enterotoxaemia, a type of blood poisoning in sheep. The toxin may also damage the brains of animals.
Recent reports indicated that some MS patients in the U.S. had antibodies against ETX, which suggested prior exposure to the toxin.
Research conducted by the University of Exeter in England and life sciences company MS Sciences Ltd. assessed blood levels of antibodies against the epsilon toxin in U.K. patients with clinically proven MS, clinically isolated syndrome (CIS, a first episode of MS symptoms lasting at least 24 hours), or optic neuritis (ON, an inflammation in the optic nerve), as well as in a control group without MS.
Results from one of the analyses revealed that 24% of the samples from patients with either MS, CIS, or ON tested positive for ETX, compared with 10% in the control group. Another analysis showed ETX presence in 33% of MS patients’ samples, compared with 16% in the control group.
Overall, 43% of MS patients were positive for epsilon toxin antibodies.
The positive results in controls suggest that exposure to ETX does not necessarily lead to MS, the researchers wrote.
“Our results broadly support the previous findings, and the role of [ETX] in the etiology of MS warrants further investigation,” they said.
Rick Titball, PhD, the study’s senior author from the University of Exeter, said in a press release that the team’s research “suggests that there is a link between epsilon toxin and MS.”
However, he cautioned that additional studies are required to better understand how ETX may contribute to MS, and how these results may help in the development of new tests or therapies.
“There is a growing body of wider evidence that points to a hypothesis linking MS and ETX, and we are confident that these significant findings from our latest study will help people get even closer to an answer for the elusive triggers of MS,” said Simon Slater, director of MS Sciences Ltd.
Slater said that if the association between ETX and MS holds true in future studies, “then this would suggest that vaccination would be an effective treatment for its prevention or in the early stages of the disease.”
No human vaccine has been developed against ETX despite the toxin’s high potency, he said.
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