Transcriptional markers of excitation-inhibition balance in germ-free mice show region-specific dysregulation and rescue after bacterial colonization
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BACKGROUND: Studies of germ-free (GF) mice demonstrate that gut microbiota can influence behaviour by modulating neurochemical pathways in the brain, and that bacterial colonization normalizes behavioural deficits in GF-mice. Since disrupted GABAergic and glutamatergic signaling are reported in mood disorders, this study investigated the effect of gut microbiota manipulations on EIB-relevant gene expression in the brain. METHODS: GF Swiss-Webster mice were colonized with E. coli JM83, complex microbiota (specific-pathogen-free; SPF), or no microbiota, and compared with controls (n = 6/group). 21 synaptic genes representing GABAergic, glutamatergic, BDNF, and astrocytic functions were measured in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex using quantitative PCR. Gene co-expression analysis was used to identify gene modules related to colonization status, and compared by permutation analysis. Gene expression profiles were compared to existing post-mortem cohorts of depressed subjects (n = 28 cases vs 28 controls). RESULTS: Region-specific alterations in gene expression were observed in GF-mice compared to controls. 58% of all genes (14/24) altered in GF-mice were normalized following SPF-colonization. GF-mice displayed disorganization of gene co-expression networks in all three brain regions (hippocampus, p = 0.0003; amygdala, p = 0.0012; mPFC, p = 0.0069), which was restored by SPF colonization in hippocampus (p v.s. GF = 0.0003, p v.s. control = 0.60). The hippocampal gene expression profile in GF-mice was significantly correlated with that in human depression (ρ = 0.51, p = 0.027), and this correlation was not observed after colonization. CONCLUSION: Together, we show that the absence of gut microbiota disrupts the expression of EIB-relevant genes in mice, and colonization restores EIB-relevant expression, in ways that are relevant to human depression.
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