The gut microbiome—an array of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites—plays an important part in human health and likely plays a role in brain-based diseases. DMCBH researcher Dr. Helen Tremlett collaborated with teams across Canada and the United States and found evidence that the gut microbiome might be involved in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the results of which were published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that impacts the central nervous system and affects an estimated 90,000 Canadians. Dr. Tremlett and her team studied stool samples from a unique cohort—children with MS.

“The gut microbiome communicates and educates your immune system, and we know with MS the immune system is affected, so it makes sense that the gut microbiome might play a role in this disease,” says Dr. Tremlett.

While pediatric-onset MS remains relatively rare, Dr. Tremlett says these young individuals present a unique opportunity to study how the gut microbiota might be involved in MS. This is because children typically don’t have as many comorbidities as adults, nor have they been exposed to as many medications, different diets and other life events. In other words, researchers are much more likely to be looking at the “native MS gut”  when studying these individuals so early in their MS disease course.

Dr. Helen Tremlett.

The motivation for undertaking this research was to better understand what the gut microbiome of children and youth living with MS looks like, and how it compares to kids and youth without the disease. Understanding these differences is the first step in grasping what type of role the microbiome plays in MS.

Dr. Tremlett’s team found the gut microbiota community structure differed significantly in kids and youth with MS compared to those without the disease, suggesting microbes likely play an important role in the disease. Dr. Tremlett first looked at the gut microbiome in a pilot study published in 2015, and says this recent study is larger in scope, allowing the team to look at more aspects of the gut microbiome and expand on their previous findings.

“We found that how the network of microbes in the guts of children and youth with MS were connected differed compared to children and youth without MS,” says Dr. Tremlett. “In the participants with MS, there was an overrepresentation of highly connected opportunistic pathogens and an underrepresentation of potentially beneficial short-chain fatty acid producing microbes.”

While this research study was done in children and youth, Dr. Tremlett says the results relate to adults as well. The next step is to look at functionality—what the gut microbiomes are doing in these different groups of kids—as well as studying the relationship between the microbiome, diet and MS.

This study was supported by the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific and Research Foundation (#EGID: 2636; PI:Tremlett). For more information about supporting MS research at UBC and training in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, please contact Nic Miller at