Commensal gut microbes are known to affect host immune function and may be modifiable. Recent work suggests gut microbiota composition contributes to onset of MS; however, little is known about its contribution to MS disease activity.
Estimate the association between gut microbiota and subsequent disease activity among individuals with pediatric-onset MS (pedMS) from the U.S. Network of Pediatric MS Centers.
Stool samples were collected from cases (MS symptom onset <18 years) and profiled using 16S rRNA sequencing of the V4 region. Amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) were identified using the Divisive Amplicon Denoising Algorithm-2 (DADA2). ASVs present in <20% of samples were removed. ASV clusters (modules) were identified using weighted genetic correlation network analysis (WGCNA) and sparCC transformation of ASV abundance. Cox proportional hazard recurrent event models were used to examine the relationship between individual ASVs and then ASV clusters, adjusted for age, sex, and disease modifying therapy (DMT) use.
Of 53 pedMS cases, 72% were girls. At stool sample collection, the mean age was 15.5 years (SD: 2.7) and disease duration was 1.1 years (SD: 1.0). Less than half (45%) had one relapse and 30% had >1 relapse over the subsequent mean follow-up of 2.5 years (SD:1.3). Over this time, 91% used a DMT. Among 270 individual ASVs included in the analyses, 20 were nominally significant (p<0.05), e.g. the presence of Blautia stercoris was associated with higher relapse risk (hazard ratio [HR]=2.50; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.43, 4.37). WGCNA identified 6 ASV modules. Higher values of one module’s eigengene was significantly (false discovery rate q<0.2) associated with higher relapse risk (HR=1.23, 95% CI=1.02, 1.50). Four ASVs nominally associated with higher relapse risk were in this module. These included Blautia massiliensis, Dorea longicatena, Coprococcus comes, and an unknown species in genus Subdoligranulum.
We found that a high relative abundance of a gut microbiota species within the Blautia genus, and its interconnected variants, was associated with a higher relapse risk in pedMS cases. While our study represents the largest of its kind in MS, findings need to be replicated. However, Blautia stercoris has been linked to disease activity in other immune-mediated diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus.