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The next treatment for depression may be in your gut

Diseases such as depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can be caused by metabolites produced by intestinal bacteria

The role of the gut microbiota in health has received much attention from researchers for many years, but the study of its influence on mental health is much more recent. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern, in the USA, led by researcher Jane Foster, published a study in science evidencing that this set of microorganisms from the human intestine can also influence a person’s brain and emotional health.

The publication describes how scientists are unraveling the microbiome’s relationship to the brain, including connections to diseases such as depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Animal studies have found that certain gut microbes and their metabolites (the substances they produce) can increase anxious behavior and alter brain function.

If specific mechanisms are discovered, these findings could be transferred to clinical populations and thus investigate new therapies to improve symptoms of mental illness. The researchers previously examined how inflammation can influence depression by analyzing stool samples collected from participants in the Texas Resilience Against Depression longitudinal study.

If the stool sample from a patient with depression shows certain populations of microbes that are associated with an improvement in symptoms thanks to treatment with certain antidepressants or therapies, this could lead to personalized medicine for that patient using these types of bacteria to repopulate their gut. .

The team says people currently have a plethora of treatment options, but decisions are primarily based on behavior and self-assessment and, in some cases, imaging and EEG. Antidepressants usually only work for about 40% of people. Other options are cognitive behavioral therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and diet.

If similarities are found between patients and patterns in their bacterial populations, it is possible to increase the number of people who respond to a specific treatment.


Modulating brain function with the microbiota

Photo: NIH Gallery



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