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Moods and the microbiome

Oliver Pomeroy

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A new paper shows that there may be a link between the bacteria in the stomach and anxious and depressive behaviours.

The research was conducted at the University College Cork, a leading research institution in Ireland and it focused on the bacteria in the stomach microbiome of rats. Microbiome is the name given to the hordes of microorganisms living in a particular environment, such as the body or even just part of the body, in this case the stomach.

The study analysed two key variables and found that the absence of microbiome bacteria during key windows of neurodevelopment affected the regulation of microRNAs in the brain.

But what does that mean? It means that without the bacteria in the stomach, it is possible for microRNAs to cause anxiety-like behaviours. (MicroRNAs are a type of molecule that can control other genes.)

A lead researcher on the paper, Dr Gerard Clarke said that an upshot of the finding is it may be possible to treat anxiety by making changes to microRNAs in the brain.

He said: “Research in this area has faced several challenges, for example, finding safe and biologically stable compounds that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and then act at the desired location in the brain.”

But he is optimistic that there might be a work-around for this issue.

“Out study suggests that some of the hurdles that stand in the way of exploiting the therapeutic potential of microRNAs could be cleared by instead targeting the gut microbiome.”

Psychobiotics are a relatively new category of probiotics that could also target neurological or psychiatric illnesses. Dr Clarke says the prospect of using them to affect microRNAs is an “appealing prospect”.

A number of other studies have already linked gut bacteria to depression, showing that the bacteria plays a role in mood regulation.

 

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Quality journalism by ECU students
Moods and the microbiome