The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: Implications for Anxiety- and Trauma-Related Disorders

OMICS. 2018 Feb;22(2):90-107. doi: 10.1089/omi.2017.0077. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


Biological psychiatry research has long focused on the brain in elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms of anxiety- and trauma-related disorders. This review challenges this assumption and suggests that the gut microbiome and its interactome also deserve attention to understand brain disorders and develop innovative treatments and diagnostics in the 21st century. The recent, in-depth characterization of the human microbiome spurred a paradigm shift in human health and disease. Animal models strongly suggest a role for the gut microbiome in anxiety- and trauma-related disorders. The microbiota-gut-brain (MGB) axis sits at the epicenter of this new approach to mental health. The microbiome plays an important role in the programming of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis early in life, and stress reactivity over the life span. In this review, we highlight emerging findings of microbiome research in psychiatric disorders, focusing on anxiety- and trauma-related disorders specifically, and discuss the gut microbiome as a potential therapeutic target. 16S rRNA sequencing has enabled researchers to investigate and compare microbial composition between individuals. The functional microbiome can be studied using methods involving metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metaproteomics, and metabolomics, as discussed in the present review. Other factors that shape the gut microbiome should be considered to obtain a holistic view of the factors at play in the complex interactome linked to the MGB. In all, we underscore the importance of microbiome science, and gut microbiota in particular, as emerging critical players in mental illness and maintenance of mental health. This new frontier of biological psychiatry and postgenomic medicine should be embraced by the mental health community as it plays an ever-increasing transformative role in integrative and holistic health research in the next decade.

Keywords: anxiety; interactome; mental health; microbiome; microbiota–gut–brain axis; stress-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / genetics
  • Anxiety / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Mental Disorders / microbiology*
  • Mental Health
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders / genetics
  • Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders / microbiology*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S