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Food toxin may trigger multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling disease of the central nervous system where the layer of protein called myelin that protects the nerve and helps electrical signals from the brain travel to the rest of the body becomes damaged.

No one knows what causes the autoimmune disorder, but studies indicate that genetic and environmental factors might make certain individuals more susceptible to the disease.

The number of people living with multiple sclerosis around the world has increased by 10 percent in the past five years to2.3 million, with twice as many women as men being diagnosed with the disease.

A new study from the US is now linking multiple sclerosis to a toxin – epsilon - that is produced by common bacteria found in food.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York suggest that the epsilon toxin which is produced by certain strains of Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria that commonly causes foodborne illness, appears to attack the cells associated with the disease.

The findings were presented at the 2014 American Society for Microbiology Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting.

The researchers tested 37 local food samples and found 13.5% of them contained C. perfringens and 2.7% contained the epsilon toxin.

They also examined banked blood and spinal fluid samples from MS patients and healthy controls and found that the MS patients were 10 times more likely to show evidence of antibodies signaling they’d previously been exposed to the epsilon toxin.

Lead investigator Jennifer Linden said: We provide evidence that supports epsilon toxin’s ability to cause permeability and show that epsilon toxin kills the brain’s myelin producing cells, oligodendrocytes - the same cells that die in MS lesions.’

‘We also show that epsilon toxin targets other cells types associated with MS inflammation such as the retinal vascular and meningeal cells (cells of the membranes that envelop the central nervous system).’

‘Epsilon toxin may be responsible for triggering MS.’

Further studies need to confirm the findings, but Dr. Linden suggests that if epsilon toxin is confirmed as a trigger for MS, it could lead to treatments and prevention tactics for the disease.

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