Gut bacteria can aid recovery from spinal cord injury, researchers find

Your gut bacteria may be more important than we thought.

Disrupting the gut microbiome with antibiotics before spinal cord injury (bottom) increases the number of inflammatory cells (brown) in the damaged region of the spine. Image credits: Kigerl et al., 2016

In recent years, researchers have found more and more indication that our gut bacteria is incredibly important – for a number of reasons. The complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans defends us against pathogens, affects your metabolism, and can even send direct signals to our brain. Now, researchers may have found another impact of this community.

In the unfortunate case of a spinal cord injury, the body suffers massive damage which spreads through the body. In this case, of course, the safety of the gut bacteria is of least concern for doctors who understandably focus on other aspects. A new study on mice has found that antibiotics commonly prescribed in this situation greatly disturb these bacteria, and as a result, cause higher levels of spinal inflammation and reduced functional recovery. Intriguingly, when injured mice were given daily doses of probiotics to restore the levels of healthy gut bacteria, they showed less spinal damage and regained more hindlimb movement.

Under the direction of Phillip G. Popovich at the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, the researchers gave mice probiotics in the form of lactic acid-producing bacteria. The probiotics enable the bacteria to prevent excessive damage to the spinal cord after injury and boost spinal cord recovery by secreting molecules that enhance neuronal growth and function. Additionally, spinal injuries often cause secondary effects or comorbidities especially through loss of bowel control and healthy gut bacteria also help.

“Our data highlight a previously unappreciated role for the gut-central nervous system-immune axis in regulating recovery after spinal cord injury,” Popovich continues. “No longer should ‘spinal-centric’ repair approaches dominate research or standards of clinical care for affected individuals.”

At the moment, this is just a mouse study and results have to be replicated in humans, but in light of these findings, it makes a lot of sense to think that a healthy gut bacteria can promote spinal recovery.

Journal Reference: Kigerl, K.A., et al. 2016. J. Exp. Med.

One thought on “Gut bacteria can aid recovery from spinal cord injury, researchers find

  1. Brian

    Amazing research., inflammation is the cause of all sorts of diseases, this is a big deal. Let's hope it replicates.

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