Study explores changes in gut microbiota of those with multiple sclerosis

A recent study found that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have different intestinal bacteria than those without the disease. In addition, the research suggested that the gut microbiota of those with MS varies depending on whether their illness is active or if they’re in treatment.

The study was published in the journal, Genome Medicine, and conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that impacts the brain and spinal cord, has been theorized to disrupt the bacterial and viral gut microbiota. For this study, researchers sought to compare the characteristics of the gut microbiota in patients with multiple sclerosis and healthy patients.

To do so, scientists performed shotgun sequencing of fecal microbial DNA from 148 Danish patients with multiple sclerosis and 148 healthy controls. The participants gave fecal samples at the beginning of the study, and then again two years later. Bacterial and viral microbiota findings were compared with the participants’ plasma cytokines, blood cell gene expression profiles, and disease activity.

Results showed that some groups of bacteria showed up more frequently in people with MS and other groups were more common in people without the disease. In addition, scientists found that the composition of bacteria in patients with MS undergoing treatment were different than untreated MS patients.

Two species of health-promoting bacteria, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Gordonibacter urolithinfaciens, were found to a greater extent in people with inactive MS. According to the study, these species reduce an over-reactive immune system, suggesting that they may be helpful in the treatment of MS. 

“The most interesting aspect is probably that we found specific intestinal bacteria that produce certain fatty acids that we cannot form ourselves, and a substance called urolithin,” said the study’s senior author, Oluf Borbye Pedersen, MD, of the University of Copenhagen.

However, according to Oluf, more research is needed before specific bacteria supplements are recommended to patients with MS.

“If the observations can be confirmed in independent studies, the next step will be to initiate treatment trials, for example with an anti-inflammatory, green diet and a cocktail of next-generation probiotics, which also regulate the immune competence, but are not yet on the market.”