The Influence of Prebiotics on Neurobiology and Behavior

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016;131:21-48. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2016.08.007. Epub 2016 Sep 23.


Manipulating the intestinal microbiota for the benefit of the brain is a concept that has become widely acknowledged. Prebiotics are nondigestible nutrients (i.e., fibers, carbohydrates, or various saccharides) that proliferate intrinsic, beneficial gut bacteria, and so provide an alternative strategy for effectively altering the enteric ecosystem, and thence brain function. Rodent studies demonstrating neurobiological changes following prebiotic intake are slowly emerging, and have thus far revealed significant benefits in disease models, including antiinflammatory and neuroprotective actions. There are also compelling data showing the robust and favorable effects of prebiotics on several behavioral paradigms including, anxiety, learning, and memory. At present, studies in humans are limited, though there is strong evidence for prebiotics modulating emotional processes and the neuroendocrine stress response that may underlie the pathophysiology of anxiety. While the mechanistic details linking the enteric microbiota to the central nervous system remain to be elucidated, there are a number of considerations that can guide future studies. These include the modulation of intestinal endocrine systems and inflammatory cascades, as well as direct interaction with the enteric nervous system and gut mucosa. Our knowledge of gut microbiome-brain communication is steadily progressing, and thorough investigations validating the use of prebiotics in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders would be highly valued and are encouraged.

Keywords: Anxiety; BDNF; Gut microbiome–brain; NMDA receptors; Oligosaccharides; SCFA; Vagal nerve.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diet therapy
  • Inflammation / prevention & control
  • Mood Disorders / prevention & control
  • Neurobiology*
  • Prebiotics* / administration & dosage


  • Prebiotics