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Can the gut microbiota influence learning and memory?


Andrea Calixto, a researcher from our center, gives her opinion on the surprising results of a study that provides evidence of the positive effects that the intestinal microbiota has on memory and learning.

Read the complete interview in Las Últimas Noticias
Published on October 07, 2020
Translated by Macarena Churruca

Scientists prove that instestinal flora influences learning and memory

“There is evidence that shows that the intestinal microbiota plays an important role in the development and function of the central nervous system,” says British researcher David Vauzour.

Scientists from the United Kingdom and Italy, led by David Vauzour and Claudio Nicoletti, found new evidence that links learning and memory difficulties with the so-called intestinal microbiome, a concept that refers to the set of microbial communities found in the gastrointestinal, genitourinary and respiratory tracts, the oral and nasopharyngeal cavity, and the skin.

From old to young

Vauzour, a researcher from the Norwich Medical School, a biomedical Research Center at the University of East Anglia, clarifies that his work “was not related to diet, although diet has a great impact on changes in the intestinal microbiota”.

He explains “we transferred stool from one donor to the gastrointestinal tract of another individual. In this particular case, we performed fecal transplants from older adult mice to younger adult mice and then evaluated the young adults looking for markers such as anxiety, exploratory behavior, and memory (see details at

He points out “there is evidence that shows that the intestinal microbiota plays an important role in the development and function of the central nervous system, affecting learning and memory through the neuroendocrine and immune metabolic pathways”. The scientist comments that the research showed that the aging process is linked to age-related changes in our intestinal microbiota and that “we are currently investigating the reverse process, adding fecal microbiota from young mice to older mice to see if it helps them”.

His colleague Claudio Nicoletti, professor of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, Universita degli Studi di Firenze, comments, “ We did a microbiological analysis of the feces of the mice and realized that the younger ones had different microbiota than the older ones. For example, some species produce short chain fatty acids that are important for the development of the nervous system and these disappear in the older ones”. As for the nervous system, “we analyzed the hippocampus which is the most primitive part of the brain, which is very similar between mice and humans. My hypothesis is that the same thing would happen in that part of the brain in humans,” assures Nicoletti.

Regarding extrapolating the study to humans, “I am currently writing the project and do not know whether it will be funded, but clearly the plan is to continue with humans now that we know what is happening in mice and to know if this treatment will be useful for the elderly to improve their cognitive abilities,” he details.

Bacterial importance

“It’s a fascinating subject. Microbes in the intestine are key players in the function of the nervous system, in general. In the case of aging, the physiological process that is studied in this work, it is shown that if one takes out microbes from old organisms and implant them in young organisms, they become old, in a figurative sense”, emphasizes Andrea Calixto, doctor in Biological Sciences of the University of Columbia and researcher of the Centro Interdisciplinario de Neurociencia (CINV) fom the University of Valparaiso.

Calixto mentions “we work in similar aspects but in smaller organisms where the bacteria that live in the intestines are determinant of the brain health. That is because bacteria produce many molecules that are essential for the function of organs, especially the nervous system”.

From the inverse study now performed by Vauzour and Nicoletti, “it confirms that is possible to change the physical, molecular, physiological aspect of the organs and organisms by changing the bacteria, which are the ones that produce the chemicals that have an influence on the organs”, highlights Calixto. It is interesting to understand why older organisms host different bacteria than young ones. Another great question is how the evolution of the microbial intestinal ecosystem occurs over time, so we can understand how the beneficial bacteria can remain,” she argues.

The specialists agree that fecal transplants could be used to reverse the cognitive deterioration that accompanies aging

Lee el reportaje completo en Las Últimas Noticias.

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