ST. PAUL, MN – Contrary to earlier reports, a new study has found no evidence that Chlamydia pneumoniae plays a role in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Earlier reports suggested that Chlamydia pneumoniae, a common bacterium causing respiratory infections such as pneumonia, may be a factor in the development of MS in some patients. A study presented at the 1999 meeting of the American Academy of Neurology found evidence of Chlamydia pneumoniae in the spinal fluid of 17 MS patients.
“This relationship between Chlamydia pneumoniae and MS had never been noted before,” said Margaret Hammerschlag, MD, who runs the Chlamydia Research Laboratory at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn. “The results were so intriguing, that we wanted to try to confirm them.”
Hammerschlag worked with researchers at the University of Umeå in Sweden to analyze the spinal fluid of 48 Swedish MS patients and 51 patients with other neurological diseases. The research is published in the January 11 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“We didn’t find any evidence of Chlamydia pneumoniae in the spinal fluid of any of the MS patients or the other patients,” Hammerschlag said.
The researchers also tested to see whether the patients had antibodies against the chlamydia bacteria in their spinal fluid, which would indicate a chronic immune response to Chlamydia pneumoniae. In the earlier study, a higher percentage of MS patients had these antibodies than the control patients with other neurological diseases.
“We found that more of the control patients – 82 percent – had these antibodies than the MS patients with 68 percent,” Hammerschlag said. Hammerschlag said the disparity between the two studies could be due to differences in the methods used to detect the bacteria in the spinal fluid. “Many of the methods currently in use are not standardized,” she said. “Detecting the bacteria is very difficult to do.”
Another earlier case published in the February 1998 issue of Neurology reported on a 24-year-old man with MS who was found to have Chlamydia pneumoniae in his spinal fluid. The man was treated with several antibiotics and other drugs and made a significant recovery.
Hammerschlag and her team tested three of the drugs against in vitro Chlamydia pneumoniae and found no effect.
“More studies on the topic are needed,” Hammerschlag said. “But this study shows that it’s much too soon to put MS patients on antibiotics for Chlamydia pneumoniae,” she said. The cause of MS is not known, but many infectious agents have been considered as potential causes. In MS, the insulating material of the nerves, myelin, is destroyed. This leads to problems in vision, balance, gait and other neurologic functions.
Chlamydia pneumoniae is not the same bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease, which is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, another species of chlamydia.
Source: American Academy of Neurology Press Release, January 10, 1999. The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 16,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.