CHLAMYDIA BACTERIUM FOUND FREQUENTLY
IN PEOPLE WITH MS
The bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae, a
common cause of "walk-in pneumonia," is found in the nervous
systems of most patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according
to a report presented at the American Neurological Association's
125th annual meeting, October 15 through 18 in
Employing more sensitive methods than
used previously to address this controversial question,
researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany found
signs of the bacterium in 66% of MS patients, versus only 21% of
patients suffering from other neurological illnesses.
"If these results can be confirmed by
others and if further evidence can be collected that confirms an
association between C. pneumoniae and MS, clinical trials are
required that attempt to treat MS patients with antibiotics
effective against C. pneumoniae," said Armin Grau, MD, senior
author of the report.
Multiple sclerosis is a disorder of the
nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord. In MS patients,
scarring (sclerosis) replaces myelin, a substance that normally
insulates the nerves and speeds electrical conduction through the
Depending on which nerve fibers are
hindered, patients can experience problems ranging from weakness
and clumsiness to numbness, visual disturbances, and even
emotional and intellectual changes. Some patients experience MS as
cycles of relapse and remission; others progress to severe
debilitation and may die from the disease.
Though the cause of MS is not known,
circumstantial evidence has suggested that it is an autoimmune
disorder wherein the immune system's defense mechanisms mistakenly
destroy the myelin. Research has therefore been focused on finding
the process that corrupts the immune system, and physicians have
attempted, with limited success, to treat the disease with drugs
that suppress the immune system.
On the other hand, a number of studies
have suggested that an environmental agent, perhaps an infectious
organism such as a virus, may be involved in the disease. However,
attempts to isolate such an organism have failed.
Several recent studies have produced
conflicting evidence about the presence of the C. pneumoniae
bacterium in the nervous systems of MS patients. Researchers have
debated whether the various assays used were correctly applied or
sufficiently sensitive. In this study, Grau and his colleagues
used a particularly sensitive form of a process called polymerase
chain reaction to look for evidence that C. pneumoniae genes were
present in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients.
They found that 12 of 18 MS patients,
but only 4 of 19 patients with other neurological diseases, tested
positive for the presence of C. pneumoniae. Already in progress is
a study by the same researchers involving much larger groups of
patients, as well as attempts to replicate the data with other
methods of detection.
In using patients with other
neurological diseases as the controls, the researchers provided
evidence to counteract the argument that people with any
neurological disease, whose immune systems may be compromised, are
more likely to have the bacterium in their nervous
If these results continue to be
reproduced with other detection methods, a clinical trial with
antibiotics may be able to answer the question of whether the
bacteria cause the disease or whether patients who already have MS
are simply more susceptible to C. pneumoniae.
©American Neurological Association
17 October 00