A common microbe found in sewage, marine sediment, soil, and the GI tracts of pets and farm animals may play a defining role in multiple sclerosis, according to a new study. The findings, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest that a toxin produced by certain C. perfringens bacteria may be the long sought-after trigger that degrades the blood-brain barrier and kicks off the relentless inflammation and brain cell degradation characteristic of MS.
“If this is the environmental trigger for MS, we can now start talking about a vaccine, monoclonal antibodies, or some other therapy,” says Rashid Rumah, co-author of the study and a physician scientist in Vincent Fischetti‘s lab at Rockefeller.
An estimated 2.5 million people are living with multiple sclerosis, and about 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the U.S. alone. An as-yet incurable neurological condition, MS occurs when the immune system attacks the protective sleeve surrounding nerve fibers and brain cells, known as a myelin sheath, resulting in an intractable breakdown of the nervous system.