The Role of the Gut Microbiota in the Development and Progression of Major Depressive and Bipolar Disorder

Nutrients. 2021 Dec 23;14(1):37. doi: 10.3390/nu14010037.


A growing number of studies in rodents indicate a connection between the intestinal microbiota and the brain, but comprehensive human data is scarce. Here, we systematically reviewed human studies examining the connection between the intestinal microbiota and major depressive and bipolar disorder. In this review we discuss various changes in bacterial abundance, particularly on low taxonomic levels, in terms of a connection with the pathophysiology of major depressive and bipolar disorder, their use as a diagnostic and treatment response parameter, their health-promoting potential, as well as novel adjunctive treatment options. The diversity of the intestinal microbiota is mostly decreased in depressed subjects. A consistent elevation of phylum Actinobacteria, family Bifidobacteriaceae, and genus Bacteroides, and a reduction of family Ruminococcaceae, genus Faecalibacterium, and genus Roseburia was reported. Probiotics containing Bifidobacterium and/or Lactobacillus spp. seemed to improve depressive symptoms, and novel approaches with different probiotics and synbiotics showed promising results. Comparing twin studies, we report here that already with an elevated risk of developing depression, microbial changes towards a "depression-like" microbiota were found. Overall, these findings highlight the importance of the microbiota and the necessity for a better understanding of its changes contributing to depressive symptoms, potentially leading to new approaches to alleviate depressive symptoms via alterations of the gut microbiota.

Keywords: affective disorder; bacteria; depression; gut-brain-axis; probiotics; therapy; treatment.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Bacteroides
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Bipolar Disorder / microbiology*
  • Bipolar Disorder / physiopathology
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy
  • Brain-Gut Axis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / microbiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Faecalibacterium
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Synbiotics / administration & dosage
  • Young Adult