A recent study conducted at Ohio State University and published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine found that treating victims of spinal cord injury with probiotics may help them recover better.
In addition to the dramatic effects of traumatic spinal cord injuries on movement, these injuries can have secondary effects. One of these can be loss of bowel control. This condition can disrupt the gut bacteria causing them to be overrun by “bad bacteria” in the gut.
Knowing that a lack of good bacteria in the gut can affect the progression of neurological disorders, the researchers decided to study whether changes in the population of bacteria in the gut could affect recovery from spinal cord injuries.
The scientists used mice to test their theory. They treated the animals with antibiotics to alter the population of bacteria in their guts before their spinal cords were injured. Such mice showed higher levels of inflammation of the spine and recovered poorly.
In contrast, injured mice that were fed daily doses of probiotics exhibited less spinal damage and regained more movement of their hindlimbs. The probiotics contained a class of bacteria that activate an immune cell associated with the gut that can inhibit inflammation.
These results have several implications for humans who have suffered spinal cord injury. One is that these immune cells could prevent additional damage to the spinal cord after injury. Another is that the probiotic bacteria could actually boost spinal cord recovery by release molecules that promote the growth of neurons.
This research opens up new avenues to treat people with spinal cord injuries and gives new hope for more effective treatment of these debilitating injuries.