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The gut microbiome and different outcomes in multiple sclerosis progression

Beth McCormick, Ph.D.; Ana Maldonado-Contreras, Ph.D.; and Carolina Ionete, MD. Ph.D.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disabling central nervous disease. Laboratory studies have suggested that there may be a link between the bacteria in the intestine and the development of the disease. We are attempting to identify microbial markers that can be correlated with multiple sclerosis disease progression in an effort to understand how microbes may influence each stage.



Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a central nervous disease in which progressive inflammation disrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body. This can result in disability that is either steadily progressive or occurs in waves, the so-called “relapsing and remitting” type of disease. The cause of MS is unknown, but like inflammatory bowel disease, it is thought to be caused by an interaction between pre-existing genetic risk factors and an unknown environmental trigger.


In a similar process to inflammatory bowel disease, it is possible that imbalances in the intestinal microbiome could act as this environmental trigger. MS patients often complain of gastrointestinal disorders, and may share genetic markers with patients afflicted with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Moreover, there is increasing recognition of the critical interaction between the intestinal microbiome and the immune system in the development of autoimmune diseases such as diabetes.

The UMass Chan multiple sclerosis center combines world-class treatment with cutting-edge research, and collaborations between clinicians and basic researchers are an essential component of our efforts to understand this disease. In this study we aim to understand how microbial communities change during disease progression and narrow in on specific bacteria that may serve as markers of disease stages. Ultimately, this may help us to identify intervention targets and develop therapeutic strategies to treat the disease.