Article: The Tantalizing Links Between Gut Microbes and the Brain [Nature]

“Meanwhile, researchers were starting to uncover ways that bacteria in the gut might be able to get signals through to the brain. Pettersson and others revealed that in adult mice, microbial metabolites influence the basic physiology of the blood–brain barrier4. Gut microbes break down complex carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids with an array of effects: the fatty acid butyrate, for example, fortifies the blood–brain barrier by tightening connections between cells (see ‘The gut–brain axis’).

“Recent studies also demonstrate that gut microbes directly alter neurotransmitter levels, which may enable them to communicate with neurons. For example, Elaine Hsiao, a biologist now at the University of California, Los Angeles, published research5 this year examining how certain metabolites from gut microbes promote serotonin production in the cells lining the colon — an intriguing finding given that some antidepressant drugs work by promoting serotonin at the junctions between neurons. These cells account for 60% of peripheral serotonin in mice and more than 90% in humans.

“Like the Karolinska group, Hsiao found that germ-free mice have significantly less serotonin floating around in their blood, and she also showed that levels could be restored by introducing to their guts spore-forming bacteria (dominated by Clostridium, which break down short-chain fatty acids). Conversely, mice with natural microbiota, when given antibiotics, had reduced serotonin production. “At least with those manipulations, it’s quite clear there’s a cause–effect relationship,” Hsiao says.”

Read the full article from Nature by Peter Andrey Smith: The Tantalizing Links Between Gut Microbes and the Brain

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Article: Joint Pain, From the Gut [The Atlantic]

“A study published in 2013 by Jose Scher, a rheumatologist at New York University, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis were much more likely to have a bug called Prevotella copri in their intestines than people that did not have the disease. In another study published in October, Scher found that patients with psoriatic arthritis, another kind of autoimmune joint disease, had significantly lower levels of other types of intestinal bacteria.

“This work is part of a growing effort by researchers around the world to understand how the microbiome—the mass of microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract—affects our overall health. The gut contains up to a thousand different bacteria species, which together weigh between one and three pounds. This mass contains trillions of cells, more than the number of cells that make up our own bodies. Over the past several years, scientists have compiled a growing collection of evidence that many of these bugs may have a major effect on our well-being, with some triggering chronic, non-infectious ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, and others protecting against such diseases.”

Read David Kohn’s full article at The Atlantic: Joint Pain, From the Gut

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Article: Traumatic Brain Injury Causes Intestinal Damage [Neuroscience News]

“This is the first study to find that TBI in mice can trigger delayed, long-term changes in the colon and that subsequent bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal system can increase posttraumatic brain inflammation and associated tissue loss. The findings were published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

“These results indicate strong two-way interactions between the brain and the gut that may help explain the increased incidence of systemic infections after brain trauma and allow new treatment approaches,” said the lead researcher, Alan Faden, MD, the David S. Brown Professor in Trauma in the Departments of Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at UMSOM, and director of the UMSOM Shock, Trauma and Anesthesiology Research Center.

“Researchers have known for years that TBI has significant effects on the gastrointestinal tract, but until now, scientists have not recognized that brain trauma can make the colon more permeable, potentially allowing allow harmful microbes to migrate from the intestine to other areas of the body, causing infection.. People are 12 times more likely to die from blood poisoning after TBI, which is often caused by bacteria, and 2.5 times more likely to die of a digestive system problem, compared with those without such injury.

“In this study, the researchers examined mice that received an experimental TBI. They found that the intestinal wall of the colon became more permeable after trauma, changes that were sustained over the following month.

“It is not clear how TBI causes these gut changes. A key factor in the process may be enteric glial cells (EGCs), a class of cells that exist in the gut. These cells are similar to brain astroglial cells, and both types of glial cells are activated after TBI. After TBI, such activation is associated with brain inflammation that contributes to delayed tissue damage in the brain. Researchers don’t know whether activation of ECGs after TBI contributes to intestinal injury or is instead an attempt to compensate for the injury.”

Read the full article at Neuroscience News: Traumatic Brain Injury Causes Intestinal Damage

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Article: Germs in Your Gut are Talking to Your Brain. Scientists Want to Know What They’re Saying. [NY Times]

“For some neuroscientists, new studies have changed the way they think about the brain.

“One of the skeptics at that Alzheimer’s meeting was Sangram Sisodia, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago. He wasn’t swayed by Dr. Cryan’s talk, but later he decided to put the idea to a simple test.

“It was just on a lark,” said Dr. Sisodia. “We had no idea how it would turn out.”

“He and his colleagues gave antibiotics to mice prone to develop a version of Alzheimer’s disease, in order to kill off much of the gut bacteria in the mice. Later, when the scientists inspected the animals’ brains, they found far fewer of the protein clumps linked to dementia.

“Just a little disruption of the microbiome was enough to produce this effect. Young mice given antibiotics for a week had fewer clumps in their brains when they grew old, too.

“I never imagined it would be such a striking result,” Dr. Sisodia said. “For someone with a background in molecular biology and neuroscience, this is like going into outer space.”

“Following a string of similar experiments, he now suspects that just a few species in the gut — perhaps even one — influence the course of Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps by releasing chemical that alters how immune cells work in the brain.

“He hasn’t found those microbes, let alone that chemical. But “there’s something’s in there,” he said. “And we have to figure out what it is.”

Read Carl Zimmer’s full article at The New York Times: Germs in Your Gut are Talking to Your Brain. Scientists Want to Know What They’re Saying.

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