Microbiome modulation shows brain benefits: Mouse data

By Shane STARLING contact

- Last updated on GMT

“This represents the first example of a direct role for the gut microbiome in regulating central nervous system myelin regulation." © iStock
“This represents the first example of a direct role for the gut microbiome in regulating central nervous system myelin regulation." © iStock

Related tags: Nervous system, Brain

Altering the gut microbiome has been shown to reduce erosion of nerve cell protection in the brains of mice in an Irish study.

Researchers at the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Corkfound found ‘demyelination’ – the erosion of brain nerve cell-protecting myelin – was reduced in the brains of adult mice that had their microbiomes ‘normalised’.

Demyelination is a factor in the development of maladies such as Multiple Sclerosis.

“This represents the first example of a direct role for the gut microbiome in regulating central nervous system myelin regulation,”​ researcher Dr Gerard Clarke told NutraIngredients.

“Our data suggests that key signals from the gut to the brain provide a brake on myelination processes and the possibility of using gut microbiome-based strategies for tackling myelin-related disorders.”

The team used specially bred ‘germ-free’ mice whose microbiome could be “colonised with individual microbes from the gut microbiota consortium.”

Dr Clarke added: “If we can identify missing microbes in relevant clinical populations – e.g. Multiple Sclerosis – we can then use this approach to determine how important they are for myelin regulation.”

“This could be an important strategy for understanding disease processes in conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and may expedite the development of better therapies. However, it is still early days and we need to figure out the mechanisms that allow gut bacteria to drive myelination in the prefrontal cortex.”

A graphic from the study published today in Translational Psychiatry 

Prefrontal cortex effects

The study, published in the Nature​ journal Translational Psychiatry,​ found the myelin-protecting effects occurred in the prefrontal cortex,​ an area of the brain responsible for ailments like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and autism.

Although no nutritional interventions were used, rather microbiome colonisation, Dr Clarke, working with professor John Cryan and others, suggested these could be introduced in further clinical trials that may incorporate the use of probiotics or other nutrients.

“We colonised the animals following weaning to see if the alterations in myelin regulation could be normalised,”​ added Dr Clarke.  

“This involves moving the germ-free animals into the normal animal facility and allowing them to reach adulthood there which promotes the establishment of a gut microbiota.”

The research was supported by Science Foundation Ireland.


Translational Psychiatry 

(2016) 6, e774; doi:10.1038/tp.2016.42

Regulation of Prefrontal Cortex Myelination by the Microbiota’

Authors: Gerard Clarke, John Cryan, Alan Edward Hoban, Roman M Stilling, Feargal Ryan, Marcus Claesson, Fergus Shanahan, Ted Dinan

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