The ability of gut microbiota to communicate with the brain and thus modulate behavior is emerging as an exciting concept in health and disease. The enteric microbiota interacts with the host to form essential relationships that govern homeostasis. Despite the unique enteric bacterial fingerprint of each individual, there appears to be a certain balance that confers health benefits. It is, therefore, reasonable to note that a decrease in the desirable gastrointestinal bacteria will lead to deterioration in gastrointestinal, neuroendocrine or immune relationships and ultimately disease. Therefore, studies focusing on the impact of enteric microbiota on the host and in particular on the central nervous system are essential to our understanding of the influence of this system. Recent studies published in this Journal demonstrate that germ-free mice display alterations in stress-responsivity, central neurochemistry and behavior indicative of a reduction in anxiety in comparison to conventional mice. Such data offer the enticing proposition that specific modulation of the enteric microbiota may be a useful strategy for stress-related disorders and for modulating the co-morbid aspects of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.