Billions of microbes live inside the human body, mainly in the gut (the gastrointestinal system), which is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus.
Previously, researchers believed that the only role of these microbes was to protect the body from pathogenic or opportunistic microbes that can cause disease. However, more recently they have discovered other roles for these natural inhabitants of our bodies. For example, they can affect how our genes are expressed during different stages of life.
To investigate the effect of microbes in the gut in brain diseases, researchers looked at changes in myelin. Myelin is the fatty material that coats, protects, and insulates nerves enabling them to quickly carry messages between the brain and different parts of the body more efficiently. Myelin is damaged in MS.
The authors looked at changes to myelin in the brain of manipulated laboratory mice which, as opposed to natural mice, had no gut microbes. When they compared microbe-free mice with natural mice, they found striking differences in the development of myelin in the brain.
The results show that natural microbes change how myelin genes are expressed in the brain, which is an important step toward understanding the role of gut microbes. In the future, drugs that target gut microbes to regulate myelin in the brain may also be helpful in understanding MS.
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