Bacteria in the guts of children who had recently developed multiple sclerosis (MS) differed from healthy control children, finds new research from Dr. Helen Tremlett and her University of California research colleagues, including co-PI Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant. These differences were suggestive of a pro-inflammatory environment within the gut bacterial community of the children with MS. Published this week in the European Journal of Neurology, these new findings provide new insight into the diverse ways that bacteria in the gut may affect brain health.

The researchers evaluated 18 children with multiple sclerosis (MS). All had developed MS within the past two years, and half had not been treated with an MS drug. The researchers compared stool from these 18 children to stool from 17 healthy children.

What they found was that the children with MS had significantly more of some types of bacteria, and less than others when compared to the healthy children. In addition, the overall composition of the gut microbiota (‘gut diversity’) differed in those children exposed to an MS drug relative to those who were not.

However, independent of MS drug exposure, kids with MS did have more of some bacteria that have been found in other autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, and a depletion of other—potentially more protective—bacteria.

“We can see very early in the MS disease process that there are perturbations in the gut microbiota,” says Dr. Tremlett. “This seems to suggest that onset of MS is associated with subtle changes in specific types of bacteria, particularly an increase in pro-inflammatory and a decrease in anti-inflammatory gut microbiota, especially types we typically consider markers of good health. Also, the differences we observed in the gut microbiota of the children with MS who were exposed versus not exposed to an MS drug definitely needs to be pursued further.”

Publication of this paper is Dr. Tremlett’s one-hundredth, and follows her team’s discovery earlier this year that bacteria in the gut may mean the difference between relapse and remission in kids with MS.

“We really believe we’re onto something important in pursuing these lines of research,” said Dr. Tremlett at the time. “We still don’t know what triggers MS,” Tremlett says now; “and it is certainly too early to say if the associations we observe infer causation, but the fact we see differences in the gut microbiota in these children so close to MS onset is intriguing”

“There’s a lot more we need to learn, but I’m hopeful that we’re on the right track.”