Study finds gut-brain link linked to social development

Newswise — Neuroscientists have discovered a pathway linking microbes in the gut to those in the brain, which could lead to new treatments for neurodevelopmental diseases.

Additional information: https://around.uoregon.edu/content/study-finds-gut-brain-link-tied-social-development

Why it matters:

  • Disruption of the gut microbiome and poor pruning of neural synapses have been linked to a range of neuropsychiatric disorders like autism spectrum disorders.
  • New search in zebrafish by neuroscientists at the University of Oregon shows that gut microbes encourage specialized cells to prune extra connections in brain circuits that control social behavior.
  • The UO team also identified two defining features of this set of social neurons that may be shared by mice and zebrafish.
  • The findings could lead to new treatments for a range of neurodevelopmental conditions.

How it works:

  • Pruning is a normal part of healthy brain development. Extra neural connections can get in the way of the ones that really matter, resulting in confusing messages.
  • In this research, gut microbes from healthy zebrafish prompted cells called microglia to carve out extra connections between neurons. In fish without these gut microbes, pruning did not occur and the fish showed social deficits.
  • The team also identified two defining features of this set of social neurons that may be shared by mice and zebrafish. The first is that these cells could be identified by turning on similar genes, a clue that they might play similar roles in the brains of both species. This finding reinforces the researchers’ belief that their work on zebrafish could translate to mice or humans.
  • “This is a big step forward,” said UO neuroscientist Judith Eisen, who co-led the work with neuroscientist Philip Washbourne. “It also sheds light on what is happening in larger furry animals.”

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Joel C. Hicks