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Foodborne bacterial toxin found to be a trigger for multiple sclerosis

A toxin produced by one of the most common foodborne bacteria has been proven to be the first known environmental trigger for the beginning of multiple sclerosis symptoms according to research conducted by Jennifer Linden of Weill Cornell Medical College that was presented at the Jan. 28, 2014, session of the American Society for Microbiology Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in Washington, D. C.

This photomicrograph reveals Clostridium perfringens grown in Schaedler’s broth using Gram-stain.
CDC/Don Stalons This image is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions.

Physicians and researchers have thought that environmental factors played a role in the development of multiple sclerosis for several decades but no direct link had been found until Linden discovered the function of the epsilon toxin produced by certain strains of Clostridium perfringens, a spore-forming bacterium that is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States.

The epsilon toxin was shown to be capable of passing through the blood brain barrier and producing the loss of myelin in brain cells. The loss of the myelin coating in some nerve cells is the cause of the debilitating symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.

The researchers also determined that the epsilon toxin played an initiative role in the development of brain lesions that are distinctly characteristic in multiple sclerosis.

The researchers plan to develop a vaccine specific to the epsilon toxin. This vaccine could prevent the development of multiple sclerosis in people that have a genetic tendency to develop the disease and could also be used in limiting the severity of symptoms in people that have multiple sclerosis.