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Gut bacteria may influence anxiety-like behaviors


Scientists in Cork have shed a new light on how gut bacteria may influence behavior associated with anxiety and fear.

Investigating the link between gut bacteria and biological molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) in the brain; researchers at the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, found that a significant number of miRNAs were changed in the brains of microbe-free mice, according to a study published in the open access journal Microbiome.

These mice are reared in a germ-free bubble and typically display abnormal anxiety, deficits in sociability and cognition, and increased depressive-like behaviors.

The discovery relates to gene regulators called microRNAs — their dysfunction in the brain is believed to be a key factor in anxiety-type illnesses and depression.

“The extent, and the manner, of this dialogue is made clear in [THE]research, revealing a new level of communication between the gut microbiome and the brain,” the scientists said.

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They found that miRNAs were changed in the brains of microbe-free mice. These mice were reared in a germ-free bubble and displayed abnormal anxiety, deficits in sociability and cognition, and increased depressive-like behaviours.

“Gut microbes seem to influence miRNAs in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression,” said Dr Gerard Clarke, one of the corresponding authors of the research.

Gut microbes seem to influence miRNAs in two specific parts of the brain, explained Dr Clarke.

“This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression.”

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The findings suggest that a healthy microbiome is necessary for appropriate regulation of miRNAs in these brain regions.

Previous research demonstrated that manipulation of the gut microbiome affects anxiety-like behaviors but this is the first time that the gut microbiome has been linked to miRNAs in both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, according to the authors.

The research was carried out by Dr Gerard Clarke, Prof John Cryan and PhD student Alan Hoban.

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