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Can the gut microbiota influence learning and memory?

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Andrea Calixto, a researcher at 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 instestinal 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 at Norwich Medical School a biomedical Research Center, 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 for markers such as anxiety, exploratory behavior, and memory (see details at https://bit.ly/3jBIfov).

He points out that “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 that “we analyzed 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.

With regard to extrapolating the study to humans, “I am currently writing the project and do not know if 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,” she details.

Bacterial importance

“It’s a fascinating subject. It is proven that microbes in the intestine are key in the phenomena of the nervous system, in general. In the case of aging, a physiological process that is seen in this work, it is extremely important because it is demonstrated that if one takes out microbes from old organisms and then they are implanted 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 Neurociencias. de la Universidad de Valparaíso (CINV)).

Calixto tells that “we work in similar aspects, but we do not do it in mice but in smaller organisms where the bacteria that live in the intestines are determinant in the brain health, that is because the bacteria produce many molecules that are essential for the organ’s well function, especially the brain”.

From the inverse study now performed by Vauzour and Nicoletti, “is super intelligent and confirms that it is possible to change the physical, molecular, physiological aspect of the organs and organisms, also 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 know why older organisms have different bacteria. Another great question in the scientific field is to know how evolution proved possible changes in the microbiota over time. There is where we may understand how to mitigate its effects, what good bacterias need to 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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