Multiple Sclerosis Linked to Food Bug: Bacterial Toxin May Trigger Disease

Jan 29, 2014 07:29 AM EST | By Staff Writer

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South Korea is killing chickens by the dozen. The country has now culled over 6 percent of poultry in order to curb a bird flu outbreak that has impacted farms and migratory birds nationwide. (Photo : Flickr)

You might to be careful about what you eat. It turns out that a certain toxin from common, foodborne bacteria could trigger multiple sclerosis. The findings show how important it is to test food safety in order to make sure what we eat isn't contaminated.

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease of the nervous system. It's characterized by blood brain permeability (BBB) and demyelination. This is a process in which the insulating myelin sheathes are damage. The disease itself is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by one or more environmental factors; what these environmental factors are, though, have remained unknown--at least until now.

The researchers found that epsilon toxin could be triggering MS. This toxin is produced by certain strains of Clostridium perfringens, which is a spore-forming bacterium that's one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States. This toxin targets the brain cells associated with MS pathology.

"We provide evidence that supports epsilon toxin's ability to cause BBB permeability and show that epsilon toxin kills the brain's myelin producing cells, oligodendrocytes; the same cells that die in MS lesions," said Jennifer Linden, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We also show that epsilon toxin targets other cell types associated with MS inflammation such as the retinal vascular and meningeal cells. Epsilon toxin may be responsible for triggering MS."

These findings are particularly important. If confirmed that epsilon toxin is a trigger for MS, scientists could potentially develop a neutralizing antibody or vaccine directed against epsilon toxin. This, in turn, could halt the progression of the disease or prevent it from even developing. Needless to say, that's an important step when it comes to the safety of our food.

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

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