Researchers at Harvard University Medical School, have published an exciting new scientific paper, showing a possible link between the gut microbiome and the rate of progression of multiple sclerosis symptoms in MS sufferers.

In MS the immune system attacks a protein called myelin, that ordinarily covers the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord allowing for smooth transmission of electrical signals. Inflammation and damage to this protective myelin sheath results in degeneration of the nervous system and an interruption of nerve impulses, resulting in a wide range of different symptoms.

Central Nervous System
Gut bacteria impacts inflammation within the Central Nervous System.

Impact of gut bacteria on inflammation of the central nervous system:

The research has found that two proteins are responsible for either promoting or inhibiting inflammation within the Central Nervous System (CNS), which leads to either the protection of, or damage to, nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
These proteins (TGF alpha and VEGF-B) were found to be produced in response to the breakdown of dietary tryptophan by our gut bacteria. TGF alpha appears to have a protective effect on the CNS whereas VEGF-B increases inflammation and creates damage to the CNS. When VEGF-B protein is elevated there is excessive inflammation and damage promoting a worsening of MS symptoms.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is present in many different protein foods, with good sources being: turkey, cottage cheese, eggs and various nuts and seeds.

What does this mean for the future?

Dr Bruce Bebo, Executive vice president of Research at the National MS Society, which co-funded the study said: ‘It is complicated to dissect when this pathway is acting positively to suppress inflammation and promote repair, or negatively causing inflammation and blocking repair. This new research increases understanding of these pathways and is likely to lead to strategies and treatments which can slow down and even stop disability in MS.’

Despite this positive stance, Bebo did go on to caution that: ‘we are still a long way away from being able to make recommendations about diet in MS’ but that ‘We hope that within the next few years, drugs can be found for trials and tested in patients’.
Dr Francisco Quintana, lead author of the research paper adds that his research team are ‘in the process of securing intellectual property agreements and also developing potential probiotic supplements with pharma companies’.

To read about the role of the microbiome in other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's Disease, you may like to read my earlier blog post, here.

1. Microglial control of astrocytes in response to microbial metabolites
Veit Rothhammer, Davis M. Borucki, Emily C. Tjon, Maisa C. Takenaka, Chun-Cheih Chao, Alberto Ardura-Fabregat, Kalil Alves de Lima, Cristina Gutiérrez-Vázquez, Patrick Hewson, Ori Staszewski, Manon Blain, Luke Healy, Tradite Neziraj, Matilde Borio, Michael Wheeler, Loic Lionel Dragin, David A. Laplaud, Jack Antel, Jorge Ivan Alvarez, Marco Prinz & Francisco J. Quintana Naturevolume 557, pages 724–728 (2018)

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