The gut microbiome contributes to blood-brain barrier disruption in spontaneously hypertensive stroke prone rats

FASEB J. 2021 Feb;35(2):e21201. doi: 10.1096/fj.202001117R.


In recent years, it has become apparent that the gut microbiome can influence the functioning and pathological states of organs and systems throughout the body. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the gut microbiome has a major role in the disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in the spontaneously hypertensive stroke prone rats (SHRSP), an animal model for hypertensive cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD). Loss of BBB is thought to be an early and initiating component to the full expression of CSVD in animal models and humans. To test this hypothesis, newly born SHRSP pups were placed with foster dams of the SHRSP strain or dams of the WKY strain, the control strain that does not demonstrate BBB dysfunction or develop hypertensive CSVD. Similarly, WKY pups were placed with foster dams of the same or opposite strain. The rationale for cross fostering is that the gut microbiomes are shaped by environmental bacteria of the foster dam and the nesting surroundings. Analysis of the bacterial genera in feces, using 16S rRNA analysis, demonstrated that the gut microbiome in the rat pups was influenced by the foster dam. SHRSP offspring fostered on WKY dams had systolic blood pressures (SBPs) that were significantly decreased by 26 mmHg (P < .001) from 16-20 weeks, compared to SHRSP offspring fostered on SHRSP dams. Similarly WKY offspring fostered on SHRSP dams had significantly increased SBP compared to WKY offspring fostered on WKY dams, although the magnitude of SBP change was not as robust. At ~20 weeks of age, rats fostered on SHRSP dams showed enhanced inflammation in distal ileum regardless of the strain of the offspring. Disruption of BBB integrity, an early marker of CSVD onset, was improved in SHRSPs that were fostered on WKY dams when compared to the SHRSP rats fostered on SHRSP dams. Although SHRSP is a genetic model for CSVD, environmental factors such as the gut microbiota of the foster dam have a major influence in the loss of BBB integrity.

Keywords: cerebral small vessel disease; gut microbiome; hypertension; microbiota-gut-brain axis; vascular cognitive impairment; vascular dementia; white matter disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology*
  • Environment
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Ileum / microbiology
  • Ileum / pathology
  • Rats, Inbred SHR
  • Rats, Inbred WKY