Colonization with the commensal fungus Candida albicans perturbs the gut-brain axis through dysregulation of endocannabinoid signaling

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020 Nov;121:104808. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104808. Epub 2020 Jul 24.


Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorder worldwide, with a lifetime prevalence of 5-7 % of the human population. Although the etiology of anxiety disorders is incompletely understood, one aspect of host health that affects anxiety disorders is the gut-brain axis. Adolescence is a key developmental window in which stress and anxiety disorders are a major health concern. We used adolescent female mice in a gastrointestinal (GI) colonization model to demonstrate that the commensal fungus Candida albicans affects host health via the gut-brain axis. In mice, bacterial members of the gut microbiota can influence the host gut-brain axis, affecting anxiety-like behavior and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which produces the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT). Here we showed that mice colonized with C. albicans demonstrated increased anxiety-like behavior and increased basal production of CORT as well as dysregulation of CORT production following acute stress. The HPA axis and anxiety-like behavior are negatively regulated by the endocannabinoid N-arachidonoylethanolamide (AEA). We demonstrated that C. albicans-colonized mice exhibited changes in the endocannabinoidome. Further, increasing AEA levels using the well-characterized fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor URB597 was sufficient to reverse both neuroendocrine phenotypes in C. albicans-colonized mice. Thus, a commensal fungus that is a common colonizer of humans had widespread effects on the physiology of its host. To our knowledge, this is the first report of microbial manipulation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system that resulted in neuroendocrine changes contributing to anxiety-like behavior.

Keywords: Anxiety; Candida albicans; Corticosterone; Endocannabinoid; Microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Anxiety / microbiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / metabolism
  • Anxiety Disorders / microbiology
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / metabolism
  • Candida albicans / pathogenicity*
  • Corticosterone / analysis
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Animal
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / microbiology


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • anandamide
  • Corticosterone