Natural substances that restore intestinal-bacteria balance may help in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a study funded by the international Ice Bucket Challenge.
Noting that changes in intestinal bacteria contribute to ALS, researchers said using probiotics could restore the balance.
The research, “Target Intestinal Microbiota To Alleviate Disease Progression In Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,” was published in the journal Clinical Therapies. Funding for the study came from one of 58 ALS Association grants raised through the Ice Bucket Challenge.
ALS is characterized by loss of the motor neurons that govern the connection between brain signals and muscles. The result is gradual impairment of muscle activity throughout the body.
“Due to the severe and rapidly progressing neuromuscular symptoms, the majority of study on ALS has focused on neurodegeneration,” Jingsong Zhou, PhD, of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU), said in a press release. The research team hopes its findings encourage “more investigators to consider ALS as a systemic disorder by evaluating the potential contributors outside of the nervous system,” said Zhou, a senior co-author of the study.
Researchers discovered that mice with ALS had abnormal populations of intestinal bacteria and lesions before the onset of the disease. They put 2% butyrate, a natural bacterial product, in the animals’ drinking water.
The treatment restored the equilibrium to the intestines’ flora and improved the lesions. A key finding was that the mice lived longer than untreated mice.
Researchers also tested butyrate treatment in cultures of the epithelial cells that line human intestines. It decreased the amount of mutant SOD1 protein — a known ALS trigger — in the cells.
“The findings from this study highlight the complex role of the gut [bacteria] and intestinal epithelium in the progression of ALS and present butyrate as a potential therapeutic reagent for restoring ALS-related [microbial imbalance],” the team wrote.
Although the results were promising, they were preliminary, Zhou cautioned. There is a long way to go before butyrate-based therapies are used to treat ALS patients, she said.
“This research represents a significant and innovative approach to understanding and treating ALS,” said Robert White, PhD, the dean of the KCU College of Biosciences. “Dr. Zhou is a nationally recognized researcher in this field, and we are delighted to have her at KCU.”