There were some pretty wild and amazing findings in a recent study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston – one of Harvard’s teaching hospitals.[i] In an animal model at least, researchers have discovered a way of preventing the development of multiple sclerosis. Next step will be testing this in humans.
As the gut microbiome is already known to play a major role in the development of MS, the scientists studied the contents of the mouse gut in susceptible animals, as well as the microRNAs found there. These are small snippets of RNAs which regulate the expression (turning on and off) of genes, generally stopping the production of various proteins. Oddly enough, transferring the microbiome via feces from mice at a peak time in their disease progression, into mice that had not as yet developed MS, protected against development of the MS-like disease that affects these animals. They also discovered that it was not actually the bacteria doing the protecting – it was a specific microRNA called miR30d.
miR30d is also found in the guts of patients with relapsing-remitting MS, so it is not specific to mice. When the scientists created a synthetic version of this microRNA, and gave it orally to mice, they discovered it also protected against the development of the disease. How? Well, apparently it enhances the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila, which is highly anti-inflammatory. In fact, when the researchers looked at the effects of miR30d and Akkermansia on the immune system, they discovered that T-regulatory cells were increased (the part of the immune system that modulates inflammation), which helped suppress symptoms in mice.
As strange it as it is that this microRNA is found in the gut during peak periods of the disease, the working hypothesis is that it is produced as a protective mechanism. As noted above, it’s found in those with relapsing-remitting MS, and the researchers believe it may be very much responsible for the periods of remission in that form of the illness. Says Dr. Liu, one of the senior authors of this paper, “Most patients with relapsing-remitting MS spontaneously recover from acute attacks. What we’ve found here may be a part of that recovery rather than a reflection of disease progression.”
A second senior author, Dr. Weiner, says, “We’ve discovered a new mechanism to regulate the microbiome and treat human disease that hadn’t been known before…Our findings, which show that a microRNA can be used to target and influence the microbiome with precision, may have applicability for MS and many other diseases, including diabetes, ALS, obesity, and cancer.”
That’s kind of a wow, right?!