The causes of multiple sclerosis (MS), the degenerative disease of the nervous system, are a mystery-but new research suggests it may be triggered by a rare food poisoning bug.
A strain of the bug, Clostridium perfingens, creates a toxin that travels through blood to attack the brain, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College are postulating.
In tests on laboratory mice, the researchers have discovered that the toxin, known as epsilon, crosses the blood-brain barrier to kill myelin-producing cells. Myelin sheaths protect the neurons, and damaged ones are typical symptoms of MS. The researchers earlier found a strain of C.perfingens in a young woman with MS.
C.perfingens is found in the soil and in contaminated, undercooked meat. People infected with common strains of the bug experience all the usual symptoms of food poisoning before recovering after a few days.
However, a rare strain, known as Type B, could be responsible for MS, they say.
(Source: Proceedings of the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology).