Study Finds that Gut Bacteria Drive Autoimmune Diseases

I’ve seen this study appear in several places, including more mainstream news outlets. A Yale study, published in the journal Science, found a strong connection between gut bacteria and the emergence of autoimmune diseases. Gut health has been linked to a number of systemic conditions, including autoimmune diseases, but this study provides additional evidence as well as potential treatment options. In particular, the study noted that a specific bacteria that moved to other areas of the body triggered an autoimmune response in mice with a genetic predisposition. From the article:

Gut bacteria have been linked to a range of diseases, including autoimmune conditions characterized by immune system attack of healthy tissue. To shed light on this link, a Yale research team focused on Enterococcus gallinarum, a bacterium they discovered is able to spontaneously “translocate” outside of the gut to lymph nodes, the liver, and spleen.

In models of genetically susceptible mice, the researchers observed that in tissues outside the gut, E. gallinarum initiated the production of auto-antibodies and inflammation — hallmarks of the autoimmune response. They confirmed the same mechanism of inflammation in cultured liver cells of healthy people, and the presence of this bacterium in livers of patients with autoimmune disease.

Through further experiments, the research team found that they could suppress autoimmunity in mice with an antibiotic or a vaccine aimed at E. gallinarum. With either approach, the researchers were able to suppress growth of the bacterium in the tissues and blunt its effects on the immune system.

When we blocked the pathway leading to inflammation, we could reverse the effect of this bug on autoimmunity,” said senior author Martin Kriegel, M.D.

I have always suspected a link between a long-term tooth infection and my own Sjogren’s Syndrome. From the abstract, it appears that antibiotics “prevented mortality in this model, suppressed growth of E. gallinarum in tissues, and eliminated pathogenic autoantibodies and T cells.” Unfortunately, the broad, long-term use of antibiotics as a treatment options can decimate healthy bacteria in the gut, causing additional problems. A targeted vaccine may be a safer option to suppress the bacteria causing inflammation without killing off healthy colonies. Like many recent posts, this is early research primarily involving mice, and thus a potential treatment could be some time away. Still, I am always happy to see research targeting the root cause of SS, rather than just treating symptoms.

Posted in Research, Treatment
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