The Intestinal Microbiota Affect Central Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor and Behavior in Mice
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BACKGROUND & AIMS: Alterations in the microbial composition of the gastrointestinal tract (dysbiosis) are believed to contribute to inflammatory and functional bowel disorders and psychiatric comorbidities. We examined whether the intestinal microbiota affects behavior and brain biochemistry in mice. METHODS: Specific pathogen-free (SPF) BALB/c mice, with or without subdiaphragmatic vagotomy or chemical sympathectomy, or germ-free BALB/c mice received a mixture of nonabsorbable antimicrobials (neomycin, bacitracin, and pimaricin) in their drinking water for 7 days. Germ-free BALB/c and NIH Swiss mice were colonized with microbiota from SPF NIH Swiss or BALB/c mice. Behavior was evaluated using step-down and light preference tests. Gastrointestinal microbiota were assessed using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and sequencing. Gut samples were analyzed by histologic, myeloperoxidase, and cytokine analyses; levels of serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) were assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. RESULTS: Administration of oral antimicrobials to SPF mice transiently altered the composition of the microbiota and increased exploratory behavior and hippocampal expression of BDNF. These changes were independent of inflammatory activity, changes in levels of gastrointestinal neurotransmitters, and vagal or sympathetic integrity. Intraperitoneal administration of antimicrobials to SPF mice or oral administration to germ-free mice did not affect behavior. Colonization of germ-free BALB/c mice with microbiota from NIH Swiss mice increased exploratory behavior and hippocampal levels of BDNF, whereas colonization of germ-free NIH Swiss mice with BALB/c microbiota reduced exploratory behavior. CONCLUSIONS: The intestinal microbiota influences brain chemistry and behavior independently of the autonomic nervous system, gastrointestinal-specific neurotransmitters, or inflammation. Intestinal dysbiosis might contribute to psychiatric disorders in patients with bowel disorders.