Elderly patients have an altered gut-brain axis regardless of the presence of cirrhosis

Sci Rep. 2016 Dec 6;6:38481. doi: 10.1038/srep38481.


Cognitive difficulties manifested by the growing elderly population with cirrhosis could be amnestic (memory-related) or non-amnestic (memory-unrelated). The underlying neuro-biological and gut-brain changes are unclear in this population. We aimed to define gut-brain axis alterations in elderly cirrhotics compared to non-cirrhotic individuals based on presence of cirrhosis and on neuropsychological performance. Age-matched outpatients with/without cirrhosis underwent cognitive testing (amnestic/non-amnestic domains), quality of life (HRQOL), multi-modal MRI (fMRI go/no-go task, volumetry and MR spectroscopy), blood (inflammatory cytokines) and stool collection (for microbiota). Groups were studied based on cirrhosis/not and also based on neuropsychological performance (amnestic-type, amnestic/non-amnestic-type and unimpaired). Cirrhotics were impaired on non-amnestic and selected amnestic tests, HRQOL and systemic inflammation compared to non-cirrhotics. Cirrhotics demonstrated significant changes on MR spectroscopy but not on fMRI or volumetry. Correlation networks showed that Lactobacillales members were positively while Enterobacteriaceae and Porphyromonadaceae were negatively linked with cognition. Using the neuropsychological classification amnestic/non-amnestic-type individuals were majority cirrhosis and had worse HRQOL, higher inflammation and decreased autochthonous taxa relative abundance compared to the rest. This classification also predicted fMRI, MR spectroscopy and volumetry changes between groups. We conclude that gut-brain axis alterations may be associated with the type of neurobehavioral decline or inflamm-aging in elderly cirrhotic subjects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / pathology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metabolome
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Quality of Life


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators