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Bacterial toxin may trigger multiple sclerosis

new york disease central nervous system genetics clostridium perfringens blood-brain barrier

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Posted 30 January 2014 - 02:16

Multiple sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system disease that often leads to paralysis and vision problems, affects approximately 2.3 million people worldwide and has no cure. Though no one knows what triggers MS, researchers have long suspected that a combination of genetic and environmental factors influence a person’s risk of developing the disease.

Now, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College have pinpointed a specific toxin they believe may be responsible for the onset of MS, offering hope for future therapies or vaccines to prevent the condition.

The potential trigger: epsilon toxin, a byproduct of the bacterium Clostridium perfringens – better known as one the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States.

“[Earlier research] in the lab has shown that MS patients are 10 times more immune-reactive to the epsilon toxin than healthy patients,” Dr. Jennifer Linden of Weill Cornell Medical College told FoxNews.com.  This finding ultimately prompted Linden and her colleagues to examine the link between the toxin and MS more closely.

According to earlier animal studies, epsilon toxin acts similarly to MS, in that they both have the ability to permeate the blood-brain barrier – a filtration-like system that typically prevents toxins from travelling from a person’s blood into their brain.