Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex disease of the CNS thought to require an environmental trigger. Gut dysbiosis is common in MS, but specific causative species are unknown. To address this knowledge gap, we used sensitive and quantitative PCR detection to show that people with MS were more likely to harbor and show a greater abundance of epsilon toxin–producing (ETX-producing) strains of C. perfringens within their gut microbiomes compared with individuals who are healthy controls (HCs). Isolates derived from patients with MS produced functional ETX and had a genetic architecture typical of highly conjugative plasmids. In the active immunization model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), where pertussis toxin (PTX) is used to overcome CNS immune privilege, ETX can substitute for PTX. In contrast to PTX-induced EAE, where inflammatory demyelination is largely restricted to the spinal cord, ETX-induced EAE caused demyelination in the corpus callosum, thalamus, cerebellum, brainstem, and spinal cord, more akin to the neuroanatomical lesion distribution seen in MS. CNS endothelial cell transcriptional profiles revealed ETX-induced genes that are known to play a role in overcoming CNS immune privilege. Together, these findings suggest that ETX-producing C. perfringens strains are biologically plausible pathogens in MS that trigger inflammatory demyelination in the context of circulating myelin autoreactive lymphocytes.
Yinghua Ma, David Sannino, Jennifer R. Linden, Sylvia Haigh, Baohua Zhao, John B. Grigg, Paul Zumbo, Friederike Dündar, Daniel Butler, Caterina P. Profaci, Kiel Telesford, Paige N. Winokur, Kareem R. Rumah, Susan A. Gauthier, Vincent A. Fischetti, Bruce A. McClane, Francisco A. Uzal, Lily Zexter, Michael Mazzucco, Richard Rudick, David Danko, Evan Balmuth, Nancy Nealon, Jai Perumal, Ulrike Kaunzner, Ilana L. Brito, Zhengming Chen, Jenny Z. Xiang, Doron Betel, Richard Daneman, Gregory F. Sonnenberg, Christopher E. Mason, Timothy Vartanian