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The intestinal barrier in multiple sclerosis: implications for pathophysiology and therapeutics.


Biological barriers are essential for the maintenance of homeostasis in health and disease. Breakdown of the intestinal barrier is an essential aspect of the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease. A wealth of recent studies has shown that the intestinal microbiome, part of the brain-gut axis, could play a role in the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis. However, an essential component of this axis, the intestinal barrier, has received much less attention. In this review, we describe the intestinal barrier as the physical and functional zone of interaction between the luminal microbiome and the host. Besides its essential role in the regulation of homeostatic processes, the intestinal barrier contains the gut mucosal immune system, a guardian of the integrity of the intestinal tract and the whole organism. Gastrointestinal disorders with intestinal barrier breakdown show evidence of CNS demyelination, and content of the intestinal microbiome entering into the circulation can impact the functions of CNS microglia. We highlight currently available studies suggesting that there is intestinal barrier dysfunction in multiple sclerosis. Finally, we address the mechanisms by which commonly used disease-modifying drugs in multiple sclerosis could alter the intestinal barrier and the microbiome, and we discuss the potential of barrier-stabilizing strategies, including probiotics and stabilization of tight junctions, as novel therapeutic avenues in multiple sclerosis.