Modulating the bacteria that reside in the gut by treating multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with probiotics, fecal transplants, or gut-related microRNAs may help to ease inflammation and disease severity, researchers with Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggest.
Howard Weiner, MD, a group leader at the hospital, presented his team’s findings on this topic at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2020 that ran in Florida on Feb. 27–29. His presentation was titled, “Potential for microbiome as a therapeutic target.“
The gut microbiome — the microorganisms that live in our gut, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses — plays an important role in immune function, and has been implicated in several autoimmune disorders.
In a previous study, Weiner and colleagues observed that people with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) have significant alterations in their gut microbiome compared to healthy counterparts, with these changes most evident in certain groups of bacteria.
At ACTRIMS, study results presented by Weiner showed that microbiome changes are specific to RRMS and to secondary progressive MS (SPMS) — including increases in the abundance of Clostridium bacteria, a group associated with several health disorders, and Akkermansia muciniphila, bacteria that may have anti-inflammatory effects and be beneficial for certain conditions.
According to Weiner, Akkermansia muciniphila is linked to lower disability and smaller brain lesions in MS patients, while Clostridium bacteria correlates with worse disability and, possibly, with brain swelling.
Some bacteria appear to also specifically relate to positive (e.g., overall satisfaction and an ability to participate) and negative (e.g., fatigue, anxiety, and depression) aspects that affect patients’ quality of life.
These results may support a current hypothesis that gut microbes communicate with the brain, influencing its development and behavior. For instance, the intestinal microbiome can prompt immune cells to change their activity and produce factors that exert effects in the brain.
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