Brain-Gut-Microbiota Axis and Mental Health

Psychosom Med. 2017 Oct;79(8):920-926. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000519.


Objective: The brain-gut-microbiota axis has been put forward as a new paradigm in neuroscience, which may be of relevance to mental illness. The mechanisms of signal transmission in the brain-gut-microbiota axis are complex and involve bidirectional communications that enable gut microbes to communicate with the brain and the brain to communicate with the microbes. This review assesses the potential usefulness and limitations of the paradigm.

Methods: A selective literature review was conducted to evaluate the current knowledge in clinical and preclinical brain-gut-microbiota interactions as related to psychiatric disorders.

Results: Most published studies in the field are preclinical, and there is so far a lack of clinical studies. Preliminary studies in psychiatric populations support the view of a dysbiosis in some conditions, but studies are often small scale and marred by potential confounding variables. Preclinical studies support the view that psychobiotics ("bacteria which when ingested in adequate amounts have a positive mental health benefit") might be of use in treating some patients with mental health difficulties. To date, we have no well-conducted studies in clinical populations, although there are some studies in healthy volunteers. A cocktail of probiotics has been shown to alter brain activity as monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging, and Bifidobacterium longum was reported to alter brain electrical activity.

Conclusions: It has yet to be convincingly demonstrated that the exciting findings of psychobiotic efficacy demonstrated in preclinical models of psychiatric illness will translate to patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dysbiosis / complications*
  • Dysbiosis / drug therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Probiotics / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*