Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, slowly destroys the
motor neurons that control movement. Patients gradually lose the ability
to walk, speak and swallow - and eventually, to breathe.
treatments include physical therapy and medications, but researchers
have recently started looking to the gut as a new target for
‘The compound butyrate helped correct a gut microbiome imbalance and reduced gut leakiness - both symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.’
A bacterial by-product known to be important in maintaining gut
health may slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of
Medicine report that in a mouse model of ALS, the compound butyrate
helped correct a gut microbiome imbalance and reduced gut leakiness -
both symptoms of ALS. The treated mice lived also longer compared to
mice that weren't given butyrate.
The finding is reported in Clinical Therapeutics
"The brain and the gut are linked, so it's not too surprising
that the health of the gut can impact the functioning of neurons," says
Jun Sun, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at UIC
and corresponding author of the paper. In March, she and her coworkers
were the first to identify a gut component to ALS progression.
The gut microbiome - the myriad bacteria, viruses and other
microbes that make the gut their home - when in balance, helps maintain
health, starting with the gut lining. Leaky gut in ALS may lead to
increased inflammation. Reducing this gut-associated inflammation has
been a goal of clinicians and researchers, and rebalancing the gut
microbiome has shown promise in small-animal studies.
Sun and her colleagues studied transgenic mice that were
engineered to carry human genes known to contribute to certain forms of
ALS. The mice were found to have an abnormal microbiome, along with
damaged junctions between the cells of the intestinal lining. Poorly
functioning junctions can cause the tissue to become leaky, and have
been found to be associated with the onset of ALS in humans.
When the researchers fed the ALS-prone mice butyrate in their
water, starting when the mice were 35 to 42 days old, the mice showed a
restored gut microbiome profile and improved gut integrity.
Butyrate-treated mice also showed improved neuromuscular function and
delayed onset of ALS symptoms. Treated mice showed symptoms at 150 days
old compared to control mice at about 110 days. Treated mice also lived
an average 38 days longer than mice not given butyrate.
"There is only one approved drug to treat ALS, so we need
additional treatments," Sun said. "Butyrate is a bacterial by-product,
and already available over the counter as a supplement. Studies are
needed to see its effects on ALS in humans, but our preliminary results
in mice are very promising."