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Multiple Sclerosis Sparked By Common Foodborne Bacteria

Update Date: Jan 28, 2014 06:08 PM EST

Food poisoning could trigger multiple sclerosis in people who are susceptible to the disease, a new study suggests.

Scientists have linked toxins produced by common foodborne bacteria to multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating inflammatory disease that involves the immune system attacking the central nervous system. The disease is characterized by blood brain permeability and demyelination, in which the insulating myelin sheaths that surrounds and protects nerve fibers are damaged.

Previous studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is triggered by a combination of one or more environmental factors. However, the environmental trigger of multiple sclerosis is still unknown.

The latest study suggests that epilson toxin, which is produced by certain strains of Clostridium perfringens, can cause blood brain permeability. C. perfringens is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States. Common sources of the illness include beef, poultry, gravies and died or pre-cooked foods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that epsilon toxins produced by C. perfringens destroy oligodendrocytes, which are the same cells that die in multiple sclerosis lesions. Oligodendrocytes are cells that produce myelin.

"We also show that epsilon toxin targets other cells types associated with MS inflammation such as the retinal vascular and meningeal cells. Epsilon toxin may be responsible for triggering MS," Jennifer Linden of Weill Cornell Medical College said in a news release.

Last year, Linden and her team found C. perfringens type B in a 21-year-old woman who was experiencing a flare-up of her multiple sclerosis. Further experiments on mice revealed that the toxin did target the brain cells linked to multiple sclerosis pathology. Furthermore, the experiments revealed other findings to solidify the link between epsilon toxin and multiple sclerosis.

"Originally, we only thought that epsilon toxin would target the brain endothelium cells and oligodendrocytes; we just happened to notice that it also bound to and killed meningeal cells. This was exciting because it provides a possible explanation for meningeal inflammation and subpial cortical lesions exclusively observed in MS patients, but not fully understood," said Linden.

Researchers said the findings are important because it shows that epsilon toxin is indeed a trigger of multiple sclerosis. The findings suggest that developing a neutralizing antibody or vaccine directed against epsilon toxin could stop the progression or prevent multiple sclerosis from developing.

The findings were presented at the 2014 ASM Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting.

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