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Archive - Aug 22, 2017

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Gut Microbes May Communicate with Brain Metabolites through Cortisol; Finding May Suggest Potential Mechanism to Explain Characteristics of Autism

Gut microbes have been in the news a lot lately. Recent studies show these microbes can influence human health, behavior, and certain neurological disorders, such as autism. But just how do they communicate with the brain? Results from a new University of Illinois (U of I) study suggest a pathway of communication between certain gut bacteria and brain metabolites, by way of a compound in the blood known as cortisol. And unexpectedly, the finding provides a potential mechanism to explain the characteristics of autism. The new work was published online on July 13, 2017 in Gut Microbes and the open-access article is titled "Serum Cortisol Mediates the Relationship Between Fecal Ruminococcus and Brain N-Acetylaspartate in the Young Pig.” "Changes in neuro-metabolites during infancy can have profound effects on brain development, and it is possible that the microbiome -- or collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses inhabiting our gut -- plays a role in this process," says Austin Mudd, a doctoral student in the Neuroscience Program at U of I. "However, it is unclear which specific gut bacteria are most influential during brain development and what factors, if any, might influence the relationship between the gut and the brain." The researchers studied 1-month-old piglets, which are remarkably similar to human infants in terms of their gut and brain development. The scientists first identified the relative abundances of bacteria in the feces and ascending colon contents of the piglets, then quantified concentrations of certain compounds in the blood and in the brain. "Using the piglet as a translatable animal model for human infants provides a unique opportunity for studying aspects of development which are sometimes more difficult or ethically challenging to collect data on in human infants," Mudd says.