Disrupted Neurogenesis in Germ-Free Mice: Effects of Age and Sex

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2020 May 29;8:407. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2020.00407. eCollection 2020.


The gut microbiome has profound effects on development and function of the nervous system. Recent evidence indicates that disruption of the gut microbiome leads to altered hippocampal neurogenesis. Here, we examined whether the effects of gut microbiome disruption on neurogenesis are age-dependent, given that both neurogenesis and the microbiome show age-related changes. Additionally, we examined memory induced functional connectivity of hippocampal networks. Control and germ-free mice at three different ages (4, 8, and 12 weeks) were trained in contextual fear-conditioning, then subsequently tested the following day. Hippocampal neurogenesis, quantified via BrdU and doublecortin, exhibited age-dependent changes relative to controls, with the established age-dependent decrease in neurogenesis being delayed in germ-free mice. Moreover, we found sex-dependent effects of germ-free status on neurogenesis, with 4 week old male germ-free mice having decreased neurogenesis and 8 week old female germ-free mice having increased neurogenesis. To assess systems-level consequences of disrupted neurogenesis, we assessed functional connectivity of hippocampal networks by inducing c-Fos expression with contextual memory retrieval and applying a previously described network analysis. Our results indicate impaired connectivity of the dentate gyrus in germ-free mice in a pattern highly correlated with adult neurogenesis. In control but not germ-free mice, functional connectivity became more refined with age, indicating that age dependent network refinement is disrupted in germ-free mice. Overall, the results show that disruption of the gut microbiome affects hippocampal neurogenesis in an age- and sex-dependent manner and that these changes are also related to changes in the dentate gyrus functional network.

Keywords: germ-free; hippocampus; microbiome; neurogenesis; proliferation.