Billions of microbes live inside the human body, especially in the gut where there are hundreds of thousands of different species (bacteria and viruses). Many of these are beneficial and play an important role in the immune system.

Researchers have shown that these microbes could also play a role in diseases, such as type-1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. They have also shown that in laboratory animals that have been manipulated to show an MS-like disease (known as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis), gut microbes can affect myelin development. Myelin is a fatty material that insulates and protects nerves, enabling them to conduct impulses between the brain and different parts of the body effectively. Myelin is damaged in MS.

In this study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, researchers analysed gut microbes from faecal samples in people with MS and healthy volunteers. They found that people with MS had different patterns of gut microbes than those of their healthy counterparts. They confirmed these findings in a second group of people with MS using breath tests that show the activity of microbes in the gut.

Interestingly, the gut microbes were different in people with MS who were receiving treatment for MS compared to those not receiving any treatment.

It remains unclear, however, whether these changes are a consequence of MS or play a role in MS.

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