Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) etiology and pathophysiology are not well understood. Recent data suggest that dysbiosis of gut microbiota may contribute to ALS etiology and progression. This review aims to explore evidence of associations between gut microbiota and ALS etiology and pathophysiology. Databases were searched for publications relevant to the gut microbiome in ALS. Three publications provided primary evidence of changes in microbiome profiles in ALS. An ALS mouse model revealed damaged tight junction structure and increased permeability in the intestine versus controls along with a shifted microbiome profile, including decreased levels of butyrate-producing bacteria. In a subsequent publication, again using an ALS mouse model, researchers showed that dietary supplementation with butyrate relieved symptoms and lengthened both time to onset of weight loss and survival time. In a small study of ALS patients and healthy controls, investigators also found decreased levels of butyrate-producing bacteria. Essential for maintaining gut barrier integrity, butyrate is the preferred energy source of intestinal epithelial cells. Ten other articles were reviews and commentaries providing indirect support for a role of gut microbiota in ALS pathophysiology. Thus, these studies provide a modicum of evidence implicating gut microbiota in ALS disease, although more research is needed to confirm the connection and determine pathophysiologic mechanisms. Nurses caring for these patients need to understand the gut microbiome and its potential role in ALS in order to effectively counsel patients and their families about emerging therapies (e.g., prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbial transplant) and their off-label uses.
Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); gut microbiome; neurology practice.