Bowel dysfunction in multiple sclerosis

Project Details

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory and demyelinating progressive autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 2.5 million people worlwide.  It affects nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord, and is characterized by inflammation, focal demyelination and plaque formation within the CNS, axonal injury and neuronal loss.

The majority of patients with MS experience bowel dysfunction over the course of their illness, which dramatically impact on their quality of life.  Constipation was reported in 67-69% of MS patients.  Considering that constipation affects 2%-20% of the population, it is clear that bowel dysfunction is far more prevalent in MS patients than the general population.  23.4% of patients state that bowel symptoms were the first symptoms of MS, and it has been reported to predate diagnosis in many cases, and may be an early symptom of the disease.

Constipation in MS can be caused by scattered demyelinating lesions in the brain and in the spinal cord, and consequently plaques affecting the autonomic pathways, which has influence on bowel function or by gliosis and neuronal loss in the enteric nervous system. Although bowel programmes are part of routine management for many SCI patients, the same approach has not been adopted in MS.  The current therapies for bowel dysfunctions are few, symptom-related, and experimental.  An explanation of the neuropathological basis of the bowel dysfunction in MS is needed, since it will lead to the improvement in current therapies of this disorder.


Dr Ruslan Pustovit, Research Project Leader/Supervisor

Professor John Furness, Head of Laboratory

Ms Madeleine Di Natale

Dr Juan Molero


Dr Simon Murray

Dr Jessica Fletcher

Dr Peter Crouch

Dr James Hilton

Research Opportunities

This research project is available to PhD, Masters by Research, Honours, Master of Biomedical Science, Post Doctor Research to join as part of their thesis.
Please contact the Research Group Leader to discuss your options.

Research Publications

Shimizu Y, Chang EC, Shafton AD, Ferens DM, Sanger GJ, Witherington J, Furness JB. Evidence that stimulation of ghrelin receptors in the spinal cord initiates propulsive activity in the colon of the rat. J Physiol (Lond). 2006 Oct 1;576(Pt 1):329–38.

Ellis AG, Zeglinski PT, Brown DJ, Frauman AG, Millard M, Furness JB. Pharmacokinetics of the ghrelin agonist capromorelin in a single ascending dose Phase-I safety trial in spinal cord-injured and able-bodied volunteers. Spinal Cord 2015 Feb;53(2):103–8.

Furness JB, Hunne B, Matsuda N, Yin L, Russo D, Kato I, Fujimiya M, Patterson M, McLeod J, Andrews ZB, Bron R. Investigation of the presence of ghrelin in the central nervous system of the rat and mouse. Neuroscience 2011 Oct 13;193:1–9.

Pustovit RV, Callaghan B, Ringuet MT, Kerr NF, Hunne B, Smyth IM, Pietra C, Furness JB. Evidence that central pathways that mediate defecation utilize ghrelin receptors but do not require endogenous ghrelin. Physiological Reports; 2017 Aug;5(15):e13385.

Research Group

Furness laboratory: Digestive physiology and nutrition

Faculty Research Themes


Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Anatomy and Neuroscience

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