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Gut bacteria may play a role in childhood MS, studies suggest

Alterations in the composition of microbes in the gut may influence childhood MS. That’s according to research carried out by Dr. Helen Tremlett, PhD, of the University of British Columbia in Canada. Prof. Tremlett was presenting new research at the 2019 American Academy of Neurology annual meeting.

In one study stool samples were collected from 18 children with MS. The children were on average 12 years old, and had experienced disease activity for an average of 10.6 months. Half the children had received some kind of MS treatment. Stool samples were also collected from 17 children without MS to serve as controls. Researchers then performed a test to determine the type of bacteria present in each of the patients’ samples.

It was found MS patients had around 10 times more of the bacterial species Akkermansia muciniphila than healthy controls. This species of bacteria has been reported to have both regulatory and pro-inflammatory properties. Dr Tremlett suggested this meant high levels of these bacteria might lead to more inflammation, which could be involved in the development of MS.

To examine whether there are associations between gut bacteria and relapse risk, researchers then recruited 17 children with MS, and collected and analysed their stool samples. The children were followed up for 20 months, with the primary outcome being the first instance of an on-study relapse. Some significant associations were found. Children with more Firmicutes bacteria were significantly more likely to experience a relapse than those with fewer of these bacteria. In contrast, children with more Fusobacteria bacteria were less likely to have a relapse.

According to lead researcher Helen Tremlett these data suggest an association between gut bacteria and relapse risk, however she added the picture is far from clear, highlighting the fact that these studies were all conducted in a very small number of patients. Furthermore, it is not clear in what direction this relationship might act – gut bacteria might have an effect in MS, or having MS might also cause changes in the gut microbiome. Therefore, further, larger studies are needed to clarify exactly how the residents of the gut affect the development and progression of MS, she added.

Source: MS-UK 20/05/19

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