Discovery could lead to new tests and treatments
Scientists say exposure to a toxin found in sheep could be linked to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans.
A study by the University of Exeter and MS Sciences Ltd found that people with MS are more likely to have antibodies against the epsilon toxin (ETX), which suggests they have been exposed to it at some point.
ETX is produced in the gut of livestock by the bacterium, Clostridium perfringens. Whilst it can occur in other animals and even soil, it has primarily been studied as a cause of enterotoxaemia in sheep.
Researchers found 43 per cent of patients with MS were positive for antibodies to ETX, compared to 16 per cent of healthy participants.
Simon Slater, director of MS Sciences Ltd, said: “There is a growing body of wider evidence that points to a hypothesis linking MS and ETX, and we are confident that these significant findings from our latest study will help people get even closer to an answer for the elusive triggers of MS”.
If the link is proven, it would suggest that a vaccine could prevent MS in the early stages of the disease, Slater added.
However, the causes of the disease are not yet fully understood and further research is needed to understand how ETX may be involved in MS and how such findings could be used to develop tests or treatments.
MS is most commonly diagnosed in patients in their 20s and 30s and can affect the brain, causing a wide range of symptoms including problems with vision, movement, sensation and balance. It is estimated that more than a 100,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with MS.
The full research paper is published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1352458518767327