Background: Early life stress is a risk factor for many psychiatric disorders ranging from depression to anxiety. Stress, especially during early life, can induce dysbiosis in the gut microbiota, the key modulators of the bidirectional signalling pathways in the gut-brain axis that underline several neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. Despite their critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system, the effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) on the regulation of gut-microbiota in early-life stress has not been explored.
Methods and results: Here, we show that long-term supplementation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)/docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (80% EPA, 20% DHA) n-3 PUFAs mixture could restore the disturbed gut-microbiota composition of maternally separated (MS) female rats. Sprague-Dawley female rats were subjected to an early-life stress, maternal separation procedure from postnatal days 2 to 12. Non-separated (NS) and MS rats were administered saline, EPA/DHA 0.4 g/kg/day or EPA/DHA 1 g/kg/day, respectively. Analysis of the gut microbiota in adult rats revealed that EPA/DHA changes composition in the MS, and to a lesser extent the NS rats, and was associated with attenuation of the corticosterone response to acute stress.
Conclusions: In conclusion, EPA/DHA intervention alters the gut microbiota composition of both neurodevelopmentally normal and early-life stressed animals. This study offers insights into the interaction between n-3 PUFAs and gut microbes, which may play an important role in advancing our understanding of disorders of mood and cognitive functioning, such as anxiety and depression.