Mayo Clinic: Gut bacteria may lead to multiple sclerosis treatment

A human gut microbe discovered by researchers at Mayo Clinic may help treat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, according to findings published in the journal Cell Reports. While many people have eaten probiotics to improve digestion, this study goes beyond the digestive system.

The Mayo research team, including researchers from the University of Iowa, tested gut microbial samples from patients on a mouse model of MS. Of three bacterial strains, they found one microbe, called Prevotella histicola, effectively suppressed immune disease in the preclinical model of MS.

This is an early discovery and not yet a proven treatment, but researchers believe this microbe treatment of autoimmune diseases warrants further study.

"If we can use the microbes already in the human body to treat human disease beyond the gut itself, we may be onto a new era of medicine,” said a statement from Dr. Joseph Murray, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist. “We are talking about bugs as drugs."

Prevotella histicola is cultured from the human intestine. Researchers found the gut bacteria caused a decrease in two types of pro-inflammatory cells, while increasing families of cells that fight disease: T-cells, dendritic cells and a type of macrophage.

The researchers concluded that this type of gut microbe may play a role in treating MS, which is caused by an attack by the immune system on the myelin sheath that covers the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

"[Some patients] don't have this same type of bacteria, so a lot of patients probably lack this bacteria or families that are related to this bacteria, and giving this bacteria to someone on a regular basis might be giving something that's missing," Murray said.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.