The microbiota-gut-brain axis as a key regulator of neural function and the stress response: Implications for human and animal health

J Anim Sci. 2017 Jul;95(7):3225-3246. doi: 10.2527/jas.2016.1256.


The brain-gut-microbiota axis comprises an extensive communication network between the brain, the gut, and the microbiota residing there. Development of a diverse gut microbiota is vital for multiple features of behavior and physiology, as well as many fundamental aspects of brain structure and function. Appropriate early-life assembly of the gut microbiota is also believed to play a role in subsequent emotional and cognitive development. If the composition, diversity, or assembly of the gut microbiota is impaired, this impairment can have a negative impact on host health and lead to disorders such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and even potentially neuropsychiatric illnesses, including anxiety and depression. Therefore, much research effort in recent years has focused on understanding the potential of targeting the intestinal microbiota to prevent and treat such disorders. This review aims to explore the influence of the gut microbiota on host neural function and behavior, particularly those of relevance to stress-related disorders. The involvement of microbiota in diverse neural functions such as myelination, microglia function, neuronal morphology, and blood-brain barrier integrity across the life span, from early life to adolescence to old age, will also be discussed. Nurturing an optimal gut microbiome may also prove beneficial in animal science as a means to manage stressful situations and to increase productivity of farm animals. The implications of these observations are manifold, and researchers are hopeful that this promising body of preclinical work can be successfully translated to the clinic and beyond.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Obesity
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*