Gut Microbiota Influences Brain Development and Function in Early Life

Title: Targeting the gut microbiota to influence brain development and function in early life

Authors: Shugui Wang, Louise Harvey, Rocio Martin, Eline M. van der Beek, Jan Knol, John Cryan, Ingrid B. Renes
Published: 2018

Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews

In the first 2 – 3 years of life, the gut microbiota of infants quickly becomes diverse and rich. Disruptions in the evolving gut microbiota during this critical developmental period can impact brain development.

Although brain development and function appear to be modulated by changes in the gut microbiota, presumably via the gut-brain axis, the extent of this influence during very early life is unclear.

Researchers from University College Cork, University of Groningen, Wageningen University, Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, Nutricia Research Utrecht and Singapore reviewed the known associations between the gut microbiota and brain development and brain function in early life to better understand the potential mechanisms underlying this complex relationship. They also looked at how nutritional interventions can further modulate the microbiota and, ultimately, brain development and function.

Evidence reveals that microbes are able to regulate the bidirectional communication between the brain and gut.

This complex microbiota-gut-brain communication is driven by a variety of pathways including barrier function, hormonal and neural regulation (e.g., HPA axis), as well as immune and metabolic function (e.g., tryptophan metabolism).

Preclinical as well as clinical research has convincingly shown that early life nutrition (e.g. postnatal diet, fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics) can shape the gut microbiota and may affect brain development and function.

However, very few studies have investigated whether specific nutrients or nutritional supplementation known to benefit brain development also influence the gut microbiota and whether any such effect has a significant contribution and could be part of the mechanism of action.

Understanding the complexity of the microbiota-gut-brain relationship and its specific window of opportunity is instrumental in devising nutritional strategy to promote and protect normal brain development, and to reduce the risk on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders in early life.


Click here for the full publication.

Citation: Wang S, Harvey L, Martin R, van der Beek EM, Knol J, Cryan J, Renes IB, Targeting the gut microbiota to influence brain development and function in early life. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews (2018).