Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease thought to be caused by a dysregulation between effector T cells, including Th1/Th17 T cells, and regulatory T cells. The factors associated with MS including disease onset, relapses and progression are poorly understood, although epidemiological studies have suggested a role for diet, seasonal variation, infection, and genetic factors. We hypothesize that MS may be linked to the gut microbiome, as it is now becoming recognized that the gut microbiome may play a key role in shaping the immune repertoire and the balance between various effector and regulatory T cell populations. Nearly 80% of all T lymphocytes of the body are compartmentalized to the gut associated lymphoid tissues (GALT. It is becoming increasingly recognized that the gut may have a major influence on the systemic immune system. Although to date, the interface between the gut microbiome has not been extensively studied, relationships between the gut microbiome and autoimmune illness have been found. Most studies have been carried out in inflammatory bowel disease, though the effect of gut microbiota is not restricted to local autoimmune processes. The fecal microbiota in patients with rheumatoid arthritis differs from healthy controls. Studies on the microbiome and MS have been few. Japanese investigators suggest that H. pylori is a potential protective factor against MS in Japanese populations and Bifidobacteria have been reported decreased in MS. In the EAE mouse model of MS, probiotic administration of lactobacillus reduces disease activity and depletion of microflora using antibiotics in inbred SJL and C57BL/6 mice impaired the development of EAE, and that this protection was associated with a reduction of proinflammatory cytokines, potentially suggesting a role for induction of peripheral tolerance through alterations of gut commensals. They also reported positive effects on EAE in animals treated with gut components orally. We believe an investigation of the gut microbiome in MS is timely, and have established collaboration with the Broad Foundation which has a major program related to the Human Microbiome Project. We will address the following Specific Aims: 1. Do patients with relapsing remitting MS have differences in the gut microbiome compared to healthy controls? 2. Do patients with secondary progressive MS have differences in the gut microbiome compared to healthy controls and to relapsing-remitting MS? 3. Is there a link between immune signatures as measured by antigen arrays and other immune measures in the blood of MS patients (oxysterols, osteopontin, heat shock proteins) and the gut microbiome? In summary, we believe that the investigation of the gut microbiome in MS fits with the R21 mechanism as it is exploratory and novel and seeks to break ground towards new directions and applications. It applies for the first time an important newly developing technology to gain potential basic insights into an autoimmune disease whose underlying pathogenesis remains unknown.

Public Health Relevance

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system that affects young adults. The body's immune system plays a key role in MS and it is now recognized that the large number of bacteria in the gut can affect the immune system. We will be studying the gut flora in MS patients to determine if the gut flora is different in MS patients and is in some way linked to the disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Clinical Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumors Study Section (CNBT)
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Utz, Ursula
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Brigham and Women's Hospital
United States
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