A short-chain fatty acid produced by gut bacteria helps to counteract inflammatory responses in multiple sclerosis (MS) by promoting greater numbers of regulatory immune cells, a study reports.
But the bacterial composition of the gut (its microbiome) of MS patients is deficient in bacteria that produce this acid — called propionic acid — particularly in earlier disease stages, its researchers said.
Dietary supplements can help to restore normal levels of this acid, preventing the likelihood of relapses and better protecting the brain, they added. They recommend studying supplement use in clinical trials of people with MS and other autoimmune diseases.
The study “Propionic Acid Shapes the Multiple Sclerosis Disease Course by an Immunomodulatory Mechanism” was published in the journal Cell.
The autoimmune reaction in MS involves an increase of pro-inflammatory immune cells, like Th17 cells, and a reduction in cells that work to stop an immune response, like immune regulatory T-cells (Tregs). The autoimmune reaction damages myelin, the protective coat of nerve fibers — or axons — leading to loss of sensory and motor function.
Previous preclinical studies have shown that diet and gut bacteria (called gut microbiome) play an important role in modulating this inflammatory auto-reaction. Bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids like propionic acid (PA), which influence the composition of immune cells populating the microbiome by increasing the numbers of Tregs.
“These cells [Tregs] stop excessive inflammatory processes, and reduce auto-immune cells in autoimmune diseases like MS,” Ralf Gold, director of the department of Neurology at Ruhr University Bochum, St. Josef Hospital Bochum, in Germany, and one of the study’s co-lead authors, said in a press release.
To confirm these lab findings in people, researchers compared blood and stool samples from a group of MS patients (268 patients) and 68 people with this disease, serving as controls.
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