The microbiota-gut-brain axis: neurobehavioral correlates, health and sociality

Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Oct 7;7:70. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2013.00070.


Recent data suggest that the human body is not such a neatly self-sufficient island after all. It is more like a super-complex ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit all our surfaces; skin, mouth, sexual organs, and specially intestines. It has recently become evident that such microbiota, specifically within the gut, can greatly influence many physiological parameters, including cognitive functions, such as learning, memory and decision making processes. Human microbiota is a diverse and dynamic ecosystem, which has evolved in a mutualistic relationship with its host. Ontogenetically, it is vertically inoculated from the mother during birth, established during the first year of life and during lifespan, horizontally transferred among relatives, mates or close community members. This micro-ecosystem serves the host by protecting it against pathogens, metabolizing complex lipids and polysaccharides that otherwise would be inaccessible nutrients, neutralizing drugs and carcinogens, modulating intestinal motility, and making visceral perception possible. It is now evident that the bidirectional signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain, mainly through the vagus nerve, the so called "microbiota-gut-vagus-brain axis," is vital for maintaining homeostasis and it may be also involved in the etiology of several metabolic and mental dysfunctions/disorders. Here we review evidence on the ability of the gut microbiota to communicate with the brain and thus modulate behavior, and also elaborate on the ethological and cultural strategies of human and non-human primates to select, transfer and eliminate microorganisms for selecting the commensal profile.

Keywords: evolutionary psychology; kissing; microbiota–gut–brain axis; neurobiology; psychoneuroimmunology; social bonds.

Publication types

  • Review