Bacterial neurotoxic metabolites in multiple sclerosis cerebrospinal fluid and plasma

Achilles Ntranos, Hye Jin Park, Maureen Wentling, Vladimir Tolstikov, Mario Amatruda, Benjamin Inbar, Seunghee Kim-Schulze, Carol Frazier, Judy Button, Michael A. Kiebish, Fred Lublin, Keith Edwards, Patrizia Casaccia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The identification of intestinal dysbiosis in patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders has highlighted the importance of gut-brain communication, and yet the question regarding the identity of the components responsible for this cross-talk remains open. We previously reported that relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis patients treated with dimethyl fumarate have a prominent depletion of the gut microbiota, thereby suggesting that studying the composition of plasma and CSF samples from these patients may help to identify microbially derived metabolites. We used a functional xenogeneic assay consisting of cultured rat neurons exposed to CSF samples collected from multiple sclerosis patients before and after dimethyl fumarate treatment to assess neurotoxicity and then conducted a metabolomic analysis of plasma and CSF samples to identify metabolites with differential abundance. A weighted correlation network analysis allowed us to identify groups of metabolites, present in plasma and CSF samples, whose abundance correlated with the neurotoxic potential of the CSF. This analysis identified the presence of phenol and indole group metabolites of bacterial origin (e.g. p-cresol sulphate, indoxyl sulphate and N-phenylacetylglutamine) as potentially neurotoxic and decreased by treatment. Chronic exposure of cultured neurons to these metabolites impaired their firing rate and induced axonal damage, independent from mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, thereby identifying a novel pathway of neurotoxicity. Clinical, radiological and cognitive test metrics were also collected in treated patients at follow-up visits. Improved MRI metrics, disability and cognition were only detected in dimethyl fumarate-treated relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis patients. The levels of the identified metabolites of bacterial origin (p-cresol sulphate, indoxyl sulphate and N-phenylacetylglutamine) were inversely correlated to MRI measurements of cortical volume and directly correlated to the levels of neurofilament light chain, an established biomarker of neurodegeneration. Our data suggest that phenol and indole derivatives from the catabolism of tryptophan and phenylalanine are microbially derived metabolites, which may mediate gut-brain communication and induce neurotoxicity in multiple sclerosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-583
Number of pages15
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • brain
  • metabolism
  • microbiota
  • neurodegeneration


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