The following is my summary of a recent study that speaks to the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome for protection from viruses that contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. The research also supported convincing evidence of the detrimental effects that antibiotics have on the gut microbiome.

Cliff notes:

  • A recent study from the University of Utah School of Medicine looked at the association between viral infections, neurodegenerative diseases, the gut microbiome and the immune system. The researchers suggest that gut microbiome disruptions can allow harmful viruses to trigger the onset of chronic neurodegenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis.
  • They discovered that the mice given microbiome disruptors, including antibiotics, showed significantly weakened immune response, worse signs of neurodegeneration, and less active brain immune cells (microglia) vs the healthy mice.
  • The study suggests that healthy microbes in the gut are important to quickly clear viruses in the CNS to prevent damage from neurodegenerative diseases like MS.

More details:

A new study from the University of Utah School of Medicine examined the role of the gut microbiome and how it could affect the onset of chronic neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

The researchers looked at two different groups of mice, both infected with a specific strain of hepatitis virus, which acts like MS in the animal model. One group of mice was raised with a healthy microbiome, while the other group was given microbiome disruptors like antibiotics. Antibiotics alone are known to eliminate many gut bacteria.

The mice with the disrupted microbiomes showed significantly weakened immune responses to the hepatitis virus. They also observed worse signs of neurodegeneration, including paralysis. They also noted less active brain immune cells (microglia) in the mice with disrupted microbiomes vs the healthy mice.

Taking it one step further, they determined the mechanism gut bacteria could be using to improve the activity of microglia in the CNS and brain. Researchers found one immune signaling protein, TLR4, which was key to the process. Amazingly, when the researchers administered TLR4 to the virally infected mice with poor microbiomes, the animals showed reduced neurological damage from the virus.

“We’ve shown that gut microbiomes protect infected mice from paralysis by turning on a specific pathway in CNS cells,” says June Round, co-senior author of the study. “This suggests that signals from the microbes are essential to quickly clear viruses in the nervous system and prevent damage from multiple sclerosis-like disease.”

To note, this has only been researched in the animal experiments and there are many questions like which particular gut bacteria species could be responsible for the specific TLR4 signaling. Round says what we know for sure is that antibiotics can disrupt our vital gut microbiome population, and doctors should be considering ways to repair these disruptions.

“Our results emphasize the importance of maintaining a diverse community of bacteria in the gut, and that interventions to restore this community after taking antibiotics may be necessary,” says Round.

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