Background: The impact of the gut microbiota on host physiology and behavior has been relatively well established. Whether changes in microbial composition affect brain structure and function is largely elusive, however. This is important as altered brain structure and function have been implicated in various neurodevelopmental disorders, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We hypothesized that gut microbiota of persons with and without ADHD, when transplanted into mice, would differentially modify brain function and/or structure. We investigated this by colonizing young, male, germ-free C57BL/6JOlaHsd mice with microbiota from individuals with and without ADHD. We generated and analyzed microbiome data, assessed brain structure and function by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and studied mouse behavior in a behavioral test battery.
Results: Principal coordinate analysis showed a clear separation of fecal microbiota of mice colonized with ADHD and control microbiota. With diffusion tensor imaging, we observed a decreased structural integrity of both white and gray matter regions (i.e., internal capsule, hippocampus) in mice that were colonized with ADHD microbiota. We also found significant correlations between white matter integrity and the differentially expressed microbiota. Mice colonized with ADHD microbiota additionally showed decreased resting-state functional MRI-based connectivity between right motor and right visual cortices. These regions, as well as the hippocampus and internal capsule, have previously been reported to be altered in several neurodevelopmental disorders. Furthermore, we also show that mice colonized with ADHD microbiota were more anxious in the open-field test.
Conclusions: Taken together, we demonstrate that altered microbial composition could be a driver of altered brain structure and function and concomitant changes in the animals' behavior. These findings may help to understand the mechanisms through which the gut microbiota contributes to the pathobiology of neurodevelopmental disorders. Video abstract.
Keywords: ADHD; Behavior; DTI; Functional connectivity; Gray and white matter integrity; Microbiota; rs-fMRI.