Gut microbial molecules in behavioural and neurodegenerative conditions

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2020 Dec;21(12):717-731. doi: 10.1038/s41583-020-00381-0. Epub 2020 Oct 16.


Mounting evidence suggests that the gut microbiome impacts brain development and function. Gut-brain connections may be mediated by an assortment of microbial molecules that are produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which can subsequently permeate many organs, including sometimes the brain. Studies in animal models have identified molecular cues propagated from intestinal bacteria to the brain that can affect neurological function and/or neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative conditions. Herein, we describe bacterial metabolites with known or suspected neuromodulatory activity, define mechanisms of signalling pathways from the gut microbiota to the brain and discuss direct effects that gut bacterial molecules are likely exerting on specific brain cells. Many discoveries are recent, and the findings described in this Perspective are largely novel and yet to be extensively validated. However, expanding research into the dynamic molecular communications between gut microorganisms and the CNS continues to uncover critical and previously unappreciated clues in understanding the pathophysiology of behavioural, psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / microbiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / microbiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / psychology