July 19, 2010
Bacteria Role In Multiple Sclerosis

Would you believe the immune system's reaction to intestinal bacteria might play a role in causing MS?

PASADENA, Calif.—Biologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a connection between multiple sclerosis (MS)—an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord-and gut bacteria.

The work—led by Sarkis K. Mazmanian, an assistant professor of biology at Caltech, and postdoctoral scholar Yun Kyung Lee—appears online the week of July 19-23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Our modern sterile environments might have shifted the make-up of our intestinal flora in a direction that causes immune system changes that increase the odds of MS.

Segmented filamentous bacteria induce an inflammatory cascade that leads to MS in lab animals created to study MS.

To find out, Mazmanian and his colleagues tried to induce MS in animals that were completely devoid of the microbes that normally inhabit the digestive system. "Lo and behold, these sterile animals did not get sick," he says.

Then the researchers decided to see what would happen if bacteria were reintroduced to the germ-free mice. But not just any bacteria. They inoculated mice with one specific organism, an unculturable bug from a group known as segmented filamentous bacteria. In prior studies, these bacteria had been shown to lead to intestinal inflammation and, more intriguingly, to induce in the gut the appearance of a particular immune-system cell known as Th17. Th17 cells are a type of T helper cell—cells that help activate and direct other immune system cells. Furthermore, Th17 cells induce the inflammatory cascade that leads to multiple sclerosis in animals.

"The question was, if this organism is inducing Th17 cells in the gut, will it be able to do so in the brain and central nervous system?" Mazmanian says. "Furthermore, with that one organism, can we restore to sterile animals the entire inflammatory response normally seen in animals with hundreds of species of gut bacteria?"

The answer? Yes on all counts. Giving the formerly germ-free mice a dose of one species of segmented filamentous bacteria induced Th17 not only in the gut but in the central nervous system and brain—and caused the formerly healthy mice to become ill with MS-like symptoms.

So this brings up the obvious question: Which types of bacteria will reduce our risks of MS? Anyone know much about popular yogurt bacteria? Which ones would be better to get more of? Any ones to avoid?

Update: A research report about probiotic (live lactic acid bacteria) use in pregnancy to cut the incidence of eczema in babies highlights how intestinal bacteria can influence immune system function.

(20.07.2010) Mothers who drank milk with a probiotic supplement during and after pregnancy were able to cut the incidence of eczema in their children by almost half, a new study published in the British Journal of Dermatology has shown.

The randomized, double-blind study, conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), compared mothers who drank one glass of probiotic milk a day to women who were given a placebo. Use of the probiotic milk – which the mothers drank beginning at week 36 in their pregnancy up through to three months after birth -- reduced the incidence of eczema by 40 percent in children up to age two, the researchers found. The study is a part of a larger research project at the university called the Prevention of Allergy Among Children in Trondheim, or PACT, an ongoing population-based intervention study in Norway focused on childhood allergy.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 July 19 11:58 PM  Brain Disorders

Wolf-Dog said at July 20, 2010 7:38 AM:

Taking acidophilus supplements seems to be helpful.

Biobob said at July 20, 2010 9:15 AM:

"Anyone know much about popular yogurt bacteria? Which ones would be better to get more of? Any ones to avoid?"

good question ! However, you will encounter a totally inadequate scientific knowledge base confounded by a thicket of quackery. You are asking about an extremely complex and very poorly studied question. Consider that an unknown complex ecosystem of bacterial taxa are strongly affected by variable diet and host gut byproducts which are extremely variable in time, space, and individual. Even the question of naming species in bacteria is problematic since casual exchange of genetic material between wildly unrelated taxa is commonplace. Culturing large number of bacterial 'species' has always been problematic, which helps not at all.

However, basic ecological concepts should generally be useful: systems with hi species diversity and low single species dominance are more stable than the opposite. eg take whatever supplements are available and see what happens. Either the introduced species will survive and reproduce or die out, so continual dosing for long periods is likely not necessary.

Among the cows in Iowa said at July 20, 2010 11:00 AM:

A dose of bacteriophages to cure MS?

bmack500 said at July 20, 2010 11:07 AM:

Perhaps start with xiphian antibiotic, then proceed to pre-biotic and pro-biotic treatments...

bmack500 said at July 20, 2010 11:11 AM:

Oops, I believe the correct name is Alexis... not xiphian. It's a non-absorbed antibiotic effective in the colon, if my research is correct.

Paul D. said at July 22, 2010 8:35 AM:

Maybe MS could be treated with fecal transplant.

M. Report said at July 22, 2010 6:13 PM:

I would believe that is not the only case where biochemicals
produced in the gut influence the functioning of the body,
particularly the brain, to a degree not yet recognized.

DRJ said at July 22, 2010 6:15 PM:

It could be an apoptosis defect so simply repopulating the gut with "good" bacteria won't help.

Kirsten said at July 22, 2010 6:53 PM:

I'm with Biobob. Only consider one step further -- eat dirt . . . I'm not entirely joking either. I once tried to get an answer to the question "do the bacteria strains sold in supplement form survive in the gut." Most, it appears, do not. They might live for awhile but they don't propagate & "colonize" the gut. It's more likely that their benefit derives from permitting the balance of flora to re-set by introducing new, albeit temporary, competition for the gut's (hyper?)local ecological resources. Eating raw milk and the real raunchy fermented foods (e.g. homemade raw milk kefir) might do more in terms of bio-diversity of gut flora. My educated guess is that raw root vegetables might do the same. Or they might kill you.

Biobob said at July 22, 2010 7:42 PM:

LOL @ Kirsten

I, for one, welcome our new fecal transplant theory overlords [Paul D's citation and related linkies] It makes sense to me considering that it is the supposed method that intestinal flora inoculation starts at birth.

Mark said at July 23, 2010 8:21 AM:

I would not be very surprised if this was the case. I was diagnosed on 5/8/02 with RRMS. Since diagnosis I have had several relapses that have mainly affected my left leg. I have almost no motor control of the leg below the knee (drop foot) but still have feeling. Accordingly, my gait is rather Quasimodo-ish and I use a walker for "long" trips. I also wear an AFO on the left leg.

I ask your pardon for the somewhat graphic detail of this anecdote. However, I think it is quite illustrative of the potential bacterial/viral connection to MS

A 'stomach virus' was going around in October of last year here. Its basic affects were 36-hour flu-like symptoms with delayed explosive diarrhea. I started the pyrotechnics around 2 am one very dark Friday morning. After the initial bout, it was a trip to the bathroom at least every hour whether I'd eaten or not until around 10 am. I ate some chicken soup around 1 pm...which passed through in less than 30 minutes. I didn't eat anything more that day.

I basically spent my morning and day from the first bout at 2 am till 9 or 10 pm in front of a computer that was only a very few steps from the bathroom. I began to feel 'tingles' in my lower extremities that were just below the surface of the skin around 9 pm. They started in my buttocks and moved slowly down both legs. These 'tingles' were not "pins & needles" of a limb that had 'fallen asleep'. They felt GOOD...the best analogous sensation I can compare them to is 'love tingles'. Shortly after 10 pm, I felt I needed to get up...my legs felt so damned good that they simply HAD to move.

I rose from the chair I had been in for several hours with only bathroom breaks and walked almost normally for the first time in a very long time. I felt so good that I marched from my kitchen through my living room for the next 2 hours. I did not have the AFO on the leg, didn't use a walker, and was lifting the left foot 'normally'. After those 2 hours I was exhausted and went to bed. Saturday rolled around and I felt 'normal'...as in my MS normal, not healthy normal. Sunday came and I was extremely sore, especially the left leg.

I spoke with my neurologist the following Monday and discussed the events in much more detail than above. One of the last things he said went something like this, "When I was finishing up with my mentor and getting ready to go out on my own he told me that we'll probably find out MS is caused by something that is ingested. A bacteria or some such vector, most likely."

Granted this is anectdotal evidence of any such link. I can most definitely verify my alimentary canal was clean as a whistle from start to finish that day. It is quite possible I had flushed the bulk of any potential MS-causing bacteria out of my system which led to the good leg feelings and almost normal walking.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2010 5:26 PM:


Amazing story.

For people like yourself we really need to figure out which bacteria are good or bad. My guess is if we only knew what blends of bacteria to increase or avoid that the actual treatment delivery (i.e. getting the right blend of bacteria) would be straightforward.

Woko said at September 8, 2010 9:15 PM:

Has anyone ever considered that maybe antibiotics may be part of the cause of MS? I think that antibiotics could be an important key to this research.

Kath said at September 18, 2012 11:53 AM:

I would like to talk to Mark about his experience. How would I contact him?

Tracy Rose said at November 12, 2012 1:17 PM:


Healthline just launched an interactive tool that shows the correlation between sun exposure, vitamin D, and MS rates. You can find it at: http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/vitamin-d.

We would love if you could share with your friends, followers, & subscribers.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Warm Regards,

Jennifer Brousseau said at January 12, 2014 10:28 AM:


I hope this finds you well. I represent Healthline, a medical website dedicated to providing trustworthy health news and advice.

We just launched a new product with our partner TrialReach that allows you to search for clinical trials in an area for a specific medical condition.

I thought you would be interested in our Multiple Sclerosis clinical trial results: http://www.healthline.com/health/trial-reach-multiple-sclerosis-clinical-trials

I am writing to ask if you can help spread the word about this great new tool by including it as a resource on your page: http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/007352.html

Please let me know if this would be possible. I’m happy to answer any other questions as well.

All the best,
Jennifer Brousseau • Marketing Assistant
p: 415-281-3100 | f: 415-281-3199

Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
www.healthline.com | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

About Us: corp.healthline.com | Media Kit: mediakit.healthline.com

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©