Alterations of the Host Microbiome Affect Behavioral Responses to Cocaine

Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 18:6:35455. doi: 10.1038/srep35455.


Addiction to cocaine and other psychostimulants represents a major public health crisis. The development and persistence of addictive behaviors comes from a complex interaction of genes and environment - the precise mechanisms of which remain elusive. In recent years a surge of evidence has suggested that the gut microbiome can have tremendous impact on behavioral via the microbiota-gut-brain axis. In this study we characterized the influence of the gut microbiota on cocaine-mediated behaviors. Groups of mice were treated with a prolonged course of non-absorbable antibiotics via the drinking water, which resulted in a substantial reduction of gut bacteria. Animals with reduced gut bacteria showed an enhanced sensitivity to cocaine reward and enhanced sensitivity to the locomotor-sensitizing effects of repeated cocaine administration. These behavioral changes were correlated with adaptations in multiple transcripts encoding important synaptic proteins in the brain's reward circuitry. This study represents the first evidence that alterations in the gut microbiota affect behavioral response to drugs of abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Cocaine / metabolism
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microbiota* / drug effects
  • Transcriptome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine
  • Corticosterone