Vasopressin deletion is associated with sex-specific shifts in the gut microbiome

Gut Microbes. 2018 Jan 2;9(1):13-25. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1356557. Epub 2017 Aug 11.


Brattleboro rats harbor a spontaneous deletion of the arginine-vasopressin (Avp) gene. In addition to diabetes insipidus, these rats exhibit low levels of anxiety and depressive behaviors. Recent work on the gut-brain axis has revealed that gut microbiota can influence anxiety behaviors. Therefore, we studied the effects of Avp gene deletion on gut microbiota. Since Avp gene expression is sexually different, we also examined how Avp deletion affects sex differences in gut microbiota. Males and females show modest but differentiated shifts in taxa abundance across 3 separate Avp deletion genotypes: wildtype (WT), heterozygous (Het) and AVP-deficient Brattleboro (KO) rats. For each sex, we found examples of taxa that have been shown to modulate anxiety behavior, in a manner that correlates with anxiety behavior observed in homozygous knockout Brattleboro rats. One prominent example is Lactobacillus, which has been reported to be anxiolytic: Lactobacillus was found to increase in abundance in inverse proportion to increasing gene dosage (most abundant in KO rats). This genotype effect of Lactobacillus abundance was not found when females were analyzed independently. Therefore, Avp deletion appears to affect microbiota composition in a sexually differentiated manner.

Keywords: 16S rRNA; Brattleboro; gut microbiota; rat; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Genotype
  • Heterozygote
  • Homozygote
  • Male
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Brattleboro / genetics
  • Rats, Brattleboro / microbiology*
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Vasopressins / genetics*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Vasopressins