Gut Bacteria May Influence Brain Inflammation in Multiple Sclerosis

Gut bacteria found to influence the activity of cells in the brain that control inflammation and neurodegeneration.

Researchers in a recent study discovered that a change in diet and gut flora can influence astrocytes in the brain, which could lead to potential targets for multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

"For the first time, we've been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation," said corresponding author Francisco Quintana, PhD. "What we eat influences the ability of bacteria in our gut to produce small molecules, some of which are capable of traveling all the way to the brain. This opens up an area that's largely been unknown until now: how the gut controls brain inflammation."

In order to analyze the connection between the gut microbiome and brain inflammation, the researchers conducted genome-wide transcriptional analyses on astrocytes in a mouse model of MS and were able to identify a molecular pathway that is involved in the inflammation process, according to the study.

Researchers found that molecules derived from dietary tryptophan act on this pathway. When more of the tryptophan-derived molecules are present, astrocytes were able to restrict brain inflammation.

In blood samples from MS patients, decreased levels of the molecules were found.

"Deficits in the gut flora, deficits in the diet or deficits in the ability to uptake these products from the gut flora or transport them from the gut -- any of these may lead to deficits that contribute to disease progression," said Dr Quintana.

Researchers concluded that future studies are planned that will investigate this pathway and the role of diet which hopefully could lead to therapeutic intervention and biomarkers for MS.