Effect of fecal microbiota transplant on symptoms of psychiatric disorders: a systematic review

BMC Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 15;20(1):299. doi: 10.1186/s12888-020-02654-5.


Background: The Gut-Brain-Axis is a bidirectional signaling pathway between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the brain. The hundreds of trillions of microorganisms populating the gastrointestinal tract are thought to modulate this connection, and have far reaching effects on the immune system, central and autonomic nervous systems, and GI functioning. These interactions Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders have also been linked to various psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, autism spectrum disorder, and eating disorders. It is hypothesized that techniques aimed at strengthening and repopulating the gut microbiome, such as Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT), may be useful in the prevention and treatment of psychiatric illnesses.

Methods: A systematic search of five databases was conducted using key terms related to FMT and psychiatric illnesses. All results were then evaluated based on specific eligibility criteria.

Results: Twenty-one studies met the eligibility criteria and were analysed for reported changes in mood and behavioural measures indicative of psychiatric wellbeing. The studies included were either entirely clinical (n = 8), preclinical with human donors (n = 9), or entirely preclinical (n = 11). All studies found a decrease in depressive and anxiety-like symptoms and behaviours resulting from the transplantation of healthy microbiota. The inverse was also found, with the transmission of depressive and anxiety-like symptoms and behaviours resulting from the transplantation of microbiota from psychiatrically ill donors to healthy recipients.

Conclusion: There appears to be strong evidence for the treatment and transmission of psychiatric illnesses through FMT. Further research with larger sample sizes and stronger scientific design is warranted in order to fully determine the efficacy and safety of this potential treatment. Registered on PROSPERO, IRD: CRD42019126795.

Keywords: Anxiety; Chronic stress; Depression; Eating disorders; Fecal microbiota transplant; Gut-brain axis; Psychiatric illness; Substance abuse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Fecal Microbiota Transplantation
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*

Grants and funding