Microbiota and the social brain

Science. 2019 Nov 1;366(6465):eaar2016. doi: 10.1126/science.aar2016.


Sociability can facilitate mutually beneficial outcomes such as division of labor, cooperative care, and increased immunity, but sociability can also promote negative outcomes, including aggression and coercion. Accumulating evidence suggests that symbiotic microorganisms, specifically the microbiota that reside within the gastrointestinal system, may influence neurodevelopment and programming of social behaviors across diverse animal species. This relationship between host and microbes hints that host-microbiota interactions may have influenced the evolution of social behaviors. Indeed, the gastrointestinal microbiota is used by certain species as a means to facilitate communication among conspecifics. Further understanding of how microbiota influence the brain in nature may be helpful for elucidating the causal mechanisms underlying sociability and for generating new therapeutic strategies for social disorders in humans, such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Smell
  • Social Behavior Disorders / microbiology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / therapy
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology