Healthy body, healthy mind? You really can feel it in your gut

6 Apr 2016114 Shares

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Cork researchers have discovered a link between bacteria in the gut and neurological activity, a world first that opens the door for further strategies to defeat illnesses like multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers based at University College  Cork’s (UCC) Science Foundation Ireland-funded APC Microbiome Institute have discovered a direct link between gut bacteria and myelination, expanding our knowledge of neurological performance.

Investigating if the bacteria swirling around our gut influences the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is key to higher cognitive functions and in the expression of anxiety and social behaviours, scientists found that, surprisingly, it does.

Testing on mice, Prof John Cryan, Dr Gerard Clarke and student Alan Hoban proved that myelination in the brain – used for communication between nerves – is actually regulated by gut microbiome.

Myelination is key for the proper functioning of the nervous system, with disorders such as MS directly related to its performance. Therefore, understanding more about what makes our myelination tick is incredibly important.

Researchers based at the University of Cork’s (UCC) APC Microbiome Institute have discovered a direct link between gut bacteria and myelination, expanding our knowledge of neurological performance. APC Microbiome Institute’s Dr Gerard Clarke, Alan Hoban and Prof John Cryan – via Dr Alexander Zhdanov

APC Microbiome Institute’s Dr Gerard Clarke, Alan Hoban and Prof John Cryan – via Dr Alexander Zhdanov

Testing germ-free mice, the team learned that mylene-related gene expression grew. By introducing ‘normal’ bacteria, this changed and could, in theory, be managed.

“It is likely that key signals from the gut to the brain provide a brake on myelination processes,” said Cryan. “Understanding what these may do opens innovative gut microbiome-based strategies for tackling myelin-related disorders.”

The finding is a world-first, and is published in Nature, with the results broadening the concept that the microbiome has a remarkable influence over fundamental brain processes and may be harnessed in the future for a wide range of brain disorders.

Main image of gut bacteria via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com