High Levels of Pro-Inflammatory Immune Cells in Intestines May Promote MS Activity, Study Reports

High Levels of Pro-Inflammatory Immune Cells in Intestines May Promote MS Activity, Study Reports

People with multiple sclerosis have high levels of pro-inflammatory TH17 immune cells in their intestines that correlate with change in the micro-organism mix in their gut and the levels of their disease activity, a study reports.

Researchers said the findings suggest that diet, probiotics and therapies that regulate TH17 cells could help treat MS. Probiotics are supplements containing beneficial bacteria.

The study, “High frequency of intestinal TH17 cells correlates with microbiota alterations and disease activity in multiple sclerosis,” was published in the journal Science.

Research has shown that TH17 cells, also known as T helper 17 cells, play a role in the development of  MS. In fact, they were the first harmful immune T-cells to infiltrate the central nervous system, according to studies in animals

Where TH17 cells become activated has been unclear, however. Studies in mice suggested it was mainly in the small intestine. Research has also indicated that their activation increases the potential for a person to develop an autoimmune brain disease like multiple sclerosis.

An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system, which defends the body against disease, decides that a person’s healthy cells are foreign, and attacks those cells.

Researchers decided to see if the findings in mouse models of MS applied to people with the disease.

They discovered a link between higher levels of TH17 cells in MS patients’ intestines and autoimmune brain problems. They also found a correlation between higher levels of TH17 cells and changes in patients’ gut microbiome.

The team then identified which bacteria were changing in the gut.

Patients with increased levels of TH17 cells and higher disease activity had a higher ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes bacteria and more Streptococcus strains in their gut, particularly Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus oralis. Previous studies have shown that these species promote TH17 cell differentiation in humans.

Cell differentiation involves a cell transforming from one cell type to another — usually a more specialized type. This dramatically changes a cell’s size, shape, metabolic — or fuel-burning — activity, and responsiveness to signals. Some studies have suggested a link between T-cell differentiation and brain autoimmune diseases.

“On the basis of our findings, we speculate that, under certain conditions, or because of still unknown virulence factors, these Streptococcus strains can colonize the small intestine and favor TH17 cell differentiation in the human gut mucosa [linings],” researchers wrote.

In addition to more Streptococcus bacteria, the team detected lower levels of Prevotella bacteria in MS patients with disease activity than in healthy controls or patients with no disease activity. This decrease may also promote TH17 cell differentiation because “Prevotella is capable of producing the anti-inflammatory metabolite propionate that limits intestinal TH17 cell expansion in mice,” the researchers wrote.

Overall, the team concluded that “our data demonstrate that brain autoimmunity is associated with specific microbiota modifications and excessive TH17 cell expansion in the human intestine.”

The findings suggest that regulating TH17 cell expansion, along with changes in diet aimed at regulating intestinal linings, could be ways to help treat MS.


  1. Jodi Velarde says:

    I go the VA for my MS care and the doctors there don’t think outside the box as far as treatment. I’ve been telling them from the beginning that my stomach problems were linked to my flares but they won’t listen. So how can I help treat this on my own?

    • Roy says:

      How is MS related to military service (veterans) and your thinking the VA should afford you treatment?

      FYI, I volunteered for service in the Army, requested that I go to Vietnam (where I was an M-60 machine gunner. After my discharge, used the GI Bill to get my degree and then went to Navy OCS in Newport, Rhode Island and during OCS, my MS symptoms started. And I don’t ask the VA for treatment.

      • Roy says:

        By the way Jodi, thank you for your service and I didn’t mean any disrespect in regard to your comment. I think the VA is overwhelmed by veterans seeking medical care for ailments that are not attributed to service in the military. In my case, as a machine gunner in Vietnam, my hearing is damaged and I have in addition to MS, hearing loss and hyperacrusis (sensitivity to certain sounds) but I dont seek not accept treatment from the VA for any of my medical issues. I think it’s important that the VA help our vets who were damaged while in a war zone first, and assist those who were injured while on the job when they were in the military or who later develop problems due to exposure to chemicals (I was sprayed with Agent Orange three times, but Agent Orange is not linked to any of my medical problems.)

        This article suggests the T cells forming in the gut is highly suspect. I started taking probiotics and maybe you should consider it too.

  2. LuAnn Sullivan says:

    I can attest to the fact that the gut (leaky gut syndrome) correlates to MS activity. I suffered all of my childhood and adult life with intestinal gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, and constipation. At the age of 60 years, I elected to stop MS medication (Aubagio) and began a strict diet eliminating sugar, dairy, soy and other beans, and gluten. I had been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since age 20 and continue to be. I have been taking high quality probiotics for 2 years. I am 61 now and I have not had a MS relapse while on this diet. I have more core energy. Although I continue to have stress/heat/cold induced pseudo flairs, I feel better over all.

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