Diet and Gut Microbiome Influences Multiple Sclerosis Disease Activity

Researchers used pre-clinical models of MS, as well as samples from patients with MS, in order to demonstrate that diet and gut flora may influence the activity of astrocytes, the cells that control inflammation and neurodegeneration in the brain.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) disease activity is influenced by the gut microbiome, according to findings published in Nature Medicine.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) used pre-clinical models of MS as well as samples from MS patients in order to demonstrate that diet and gut flora may influence the activity of astrocytes, the cells that control inflammation and neurodegeneration in the brain. The researchers sequenced the genome of the astrocytes to identify a molecular pathway for inflammation.

The researchers determined that molecules which were derived from dietary tryptophan — more famously known for being found in turkey and other foods – act on this pathway. When those molecules were present, astrocytes limited brain inflammation. When the researchers tested blood samples from MS patients, there were decreased levels of tryptophan derived molecules.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation,” corresponding author Francisco Quintana, PhD, an investigator in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH, said in a press release. “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.”

The researchers believe that their findings can help point to new therapeutic targets for MS patients. Similarly, previous research has theorized a connection between the gut microbiota and brain inflammation, but never before to this level.

“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 Quintana.

In the future, the study authors will examine this pathway further to determine the role of diet and how it may translate to therapeutic treatments and biomarkers for diagnosing and detecting the progression of MS, they concluded.