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Findings suggest gut bacteria, diet may influence brain inflammation

5/11/2016

A new study suggests that bacteria living in the gut may remotely influence the activity of cells in the brain that are involved in controlling inflammation and neurodegeneration. Researchers found evidence that changes in diet and gut flora may influence astrocytes in the brain, and, consequently, neurodegeneration, pointing to potential therapeutic targets.

Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital wanted to know how gut microbiome and brain inflammation are linked, and how diet and microbial products influence this connection. They performed analyses on astrocytes – star-shaped cells that reside in the brain and spinal cord – in a mouse model of MS, identifying a molecular pathway involved in inflammation. They found that molecules derived from dietary tryptophan act on this pathway, and that when more of these molecules are present, astrocytes were able to limit brain inflammation. In blood samples from MS patients, the team found decreased levels of these tryptophan-derived molecules.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation,” said Francisco Quintana, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. “What we eat influences the ability of bacteria in our gut to produce small molecules, some of which are capable of traveling all the way to the brain. This opens up an area that’s largely been unknown until now: how the gut controls brain inflammation.”

Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, researchers plan to investigate this pathway and the role of diet in future studies to determine if the new findings can be translated into targets for therapeutic intervention and biomarkers for diagnosing and detecting the advancement of disease. Do not take tryptophan supplements without first consulting a doctor as there can be serious side effects.

The findings were published in Nature Medicine.



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