From ECTRIMS: New Results on Gut Bacteria and MS

The ECTRIMS meeting has been a great place to connect with researchers on what’s truly exciting in MS research. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing about an area of investigation that is moving forward quickly – from initial observations toward treatments or solutions for people with MS. From what I've heard this week, researchers who are looking at the gut microbiome and its role in the MS immune attack are doing just that. Feel free to browse the abstracts (summaries of conference presentations) here.
Drs. Yan Wang, Lloyd Kasper and colleagues from Dartmouth Medical School and Eastern Washington University built on previous work, which had shown that modulating gut bacteria during MS-like disease in mice induced specific immune cells (called Bregs – or regulatory B cells), and these Bregs reduced disease severity. At ECTRIMS, they reported that treating mice with the gut-related molecule called polysaccharide A (PSA) expanded Bregs; these cells promoted an immune response that prevented the mice from getting MS-like disease. PSA is released by specific species of gut bacteria (Bacteroides) that “colonize” the guts of almost 95% of people worldwide. Partly funded by the National MS Society, this exciting work brings us one step closer to future clinical studies to explore how PSA may help to stop the immune attack in people with MS. (Abstract 181) Members of this team also reported that PSA was effective in mice with progressive MS-like disease. (Abstract P465)

Drs. Egle Cekanaviciute, Sergio Baranzini and other collaborators in the MS Microbiome Consortium are rigorously analyzing gut bacteria to unearth clues about MS susceptibility and progression. At ECTRIMS, they reported on an analysis of bacteria in stool samples from 64 people with MS who had received treatment for MS, and 68 people without MS. Certain bacteria were increased in people with MS, and those bacteria increased immune T helper 1 (Th1) cells – major players in the MS immune attack. Meanwhile, another type of bacteria – which was reduced in people with MS – induced cells that could turn down the immune attack. (Abstract 179) If we can pinpoint certain bacteria that may drive immune system activity in MS and others that can suppress it, this research may open the door to novel therapeutic approaches based on manipulating these gut bacteria.

Young investigator Dr. Gloria Dalla Costa and colleagues from San Raffaele Hospital in Milan showed that Th17 cells, important culprits in the MS immune attack, are increased in the intestinal lining of people with MS compared with people who do not have the disease. Their next goal is to determine how manipulating gut bacteria or diet might affect the generation of these intestinal Th17 cells, and the development of MS. (Abstract 73)

The interaction between the gut and the immune attack in MS may begin quite early, says Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia) and collaborators from the U.S. Network of Pediatric MS Centers. They examined gut bacteria and immune markers in 15 children with MS and nine children without MS. In children with MS, they found links between types of gut bacteria and specific immune markers. For example, increases in Bacteroides meant decreases in Th17 cells, which are thought to help drive attacks. (Abstract P287) Studying MS in this early stage is important to identify the first steps of gut microbiome involvement in MS. 

The microbiome is a relatively new area of research for the MS community – but I’m excited to see how far this field has come in a short amount of time. I’m eager for this progress to be propelled into treatments and solutions that will stop the disease.
Tags Healthy Living, Research, Treatment      1 Appreciate this

Elisabeth Mari, PhD

Dr. Elisabeth Mari is Director of Biomedical Research at the National MS Society. Her responsibilities include supporting the Society’s biomedical research grant portfolio and the International Progressive MS Alliance. An immunologist by training, she attended the University of Delaware and then earned her PhD at Imperial College London. Dr. Mari did a postdoctoral research fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. She joined the Society in 2016 and brings over 13 years of experience in biomedical research.