Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered additional evidence that multiple sclerosis (MS) could be triggered by a toxin produced by common foodborne bacteria.

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Specific strains of Clostridium perfringens, a spore-forming bacterium and one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the US, are producers of epsilon toxin. The CDC estimates that non-epsilon toxin producing C. perfringens causes nearly a million cases of foodborne illness each year.

Last year Linden and colleagues discovered C. perfringens type B, an epsilon toxin producing strain not known to infect humans in a female patient who was experiencing a flare-up of her MS. Researchers discovered that the toxin did target brain cells associated with MS pathology.

“We provide evidence that supports epsilon toxin’s ability to cause BBB permeability and show that epsilon toxin kills the brain’s myelin producing cells, oligodendrocytes; the same cells that die in MS lesions,” says Jennifer Linden of Weill Cornell Medical College. “We also show that epsilon toxin targets other cells types associated with MS inflammation such as the retinal vascular and meningeal cells. Epsilon toxin may be responsible for triggering MS.”

Linden stated that, “If confirmed that the epsilon toxins is a trigger of MS, the development of an antibody or vaccine targeting it could halt the progression of MS or prevent it altogether.”

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