Researchers have been trying to identify the exact triggers of multiple sclerosis, a debilitating condition that affects more than 1 million adults in the U.S. Now, a new study has identified a toxin from gut bacteria that could trigger multiple sclerosis in people who have a genetic susceptibility.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, and can potentially disable the brain and the spinal cord. It occurs when a body's immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, causing permanent damage or deterioration and resulting in communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

The condition generally affects women more than men, and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

MS affects people differently based on the location and severity of nerve fiber damage. For some patients, the symptoms may be mild, while others may even completely lose their ability to walk.

The most common symptoms include lack of coordination, numbness, weakness, partial or complete loss of vision, cognitive issues, unsteady gait, slurred speech, and blurry vision.

The most common type of multiple sclerosis is relapsing-remitting MS. People affected by this clinical variant of the disease could experience periods of new symptoms that develop over days or weeks followed by quiet periods of disease remission that can last months or even years.

What triggers Multiple Sclerosis?

Although scientists believe that some people have a genetic susceptibility to the condition that could be triggered by environmental factors, the exact cause of the disease is not known.

Scientists from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine conducted a new study that established the link between a toxin-epsilon produced by a bacterium found in the small intestine and the onset and relapse of MS.

"There are many mysteries to MS. Why do some people get MS and others don't, despite similar or identical genetics? What accounts for the episodic nature of relapses and remissions? How is the central nervous system targeted and why myelin specifically?" Dr. Timothy Vartanian, co-senior author of the new study, said, Medical News Today reported.

The findings of the new research suggest that the gut microbiota of people, who suffer from MS, contain Clostridium perfringens, the bacteria that produces the epsilon toxin. Epsilon opens the blood vessels in the brain, allowing inflammatory cells to access the central nervous system, the researchers said.

Based on the findings, scientists suggest that treatments targeting the toxin might be potentially useful as disease-modifying therapies.

"A treatment that neutralizes epsilon toxin may halt our patients' new disease activity, far more effectively than current treatment modalities that suppress or modulate the immune system," Vartanian said.

Living With MS
People with multiple sclerosis and their caregivers are fighting for a cure. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock