The last decade has witnessed a growing appreciation of the fundamental role played by an early assembly of a diverse and balanced gut microbiota and its subsequent maintenance for future health of the host. Gut microbiota is currently viewed as a key regulator of a fluent bidirectional dialogue between the gut and the brain (gut-brain axis). A number of preclinical studies have suggested that the microbiota and its genome (microbiome) may play a key role in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. Furthermore, alterations in the gut microbiota composition in humans have also been linked to a variety of neuropsychiatric conditions, including depression, autism and Parkinson's disease. However, it is not yet clear whether these changes in the microbiome are causally related to such diseases or are secondary effects thereof. In this respect, recent studies in animals have indicated that gut microbiota transplantation can transfer a behavioral phenotype, suggesting that the gut microbiota may be a modifiable factor modulating the development or pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric conditions. Further studies are warranted to establish whether or not the findings of preclinical animal experiments can be generalized to humans. Moreover, although different communication routes between the microbiota and brain have been identified, further studies must elucidate all the underlying mechanisms involved. Such research is expected to contribute to the design of strategies to modulate the gut microbiota and its functions with a view to improving mental health, and thus provide opportunities to improve the management of psychiatric diseases. Here, we review the evidence supporting a role of the gut microbiota in neuropsychiatric disorders and the state of the art regarding the mechanisms underlying its contribution to mental illness and health. We also consider the stages of life where the gut microbiota is more susceptible to the effects of environmental stressors, and the possible microbiota-targeted intervention strategies that could improve health status and prevent psychiatric disorders in the near future.
Keywords: Brain-gut axis; Dysbiosis; Mental health; Microbiome; Microbiota; Psychiatric conditions.