What do bacteria in the gut have to do with MS? Research in this field is new and exciting. The gut microbiome is the community of bacteria that live in the intestines in humans. There are as many as 500 trillion bacteria and other organisms of different species. The gut may be the largest lymphoid organ in the body and critical for development of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Recent studies show that mice raised in a germ-free environment have no bacteria in their gut, and when they are treated with an antigen which causes an autoimmune disorder which is not MS but has some features of MS, they cannot mount an immune response and do not develop this disease. Mice raised in a normal environment do. When the mice who have been raised germ-free are fed feces, they then develop the disease.

It has been known for years that children treated with antibiotics early in life have a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as eczema and asthma. There are thus protective organisms in the gut.

Dr Howard Weiner presented research at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the CMSC. His group studied patients with MS on disease-modifying treatments compared with patients not treated. Treated patients had different colonies of bacteria than those who were not being treated, and after given appropriate medications, the bacteria in the untreated patients in fact were altered.

This research holds great promise in understanding MS, as for years, it has been suspected that an infectious agent is the triggering “antigen.” It will hopefully lead to new and more effective therapies.

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