High-fat diet, microbiome-gut-brain axis signaling, and anxiety-like behavior in male rats

Biol Res. 2024 May 6;57(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s40659-024-00505-1.


Obesity, associated with the intake of a high-fat diet (HFD), and anxiety are common among those living in modern urban societies. Recent studies suggest a role of microbiome-gut-brain axis signaling, including a role for brain serotonergic systems in the relationship between HFD and anxiety. Evidence suggests the gut microbiome and the serotonergic brain system together may play an important role in this response. Here we conducted a nine-week HFD protocol in male rats, followed by an analysis of the gut microbiome diversity and community composition, brainstem serotonergic gene expression (tph2, htr1a, and slc6a4), and anxiety-related defensive behavioral responses. We show that HFD intake decreased alpha diversity and altered the community composition of the gut microbiome in association with obesity, increased brainstem tph2, htr1a and slc6a4 mRNA expression, including in the caudal part of the dorsomedial dorsal raphe nucleus (cDRD), a subregion previously associated with stress- and anxiety-related behavioral responses, and, finally, increased anxiety-related defensive behavioral responses. The HFD increased the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio relative to control diet, as well as higher relative abundances of Blautia, and decreases in Prevotella. We found that tph2, htr1a and slc6a4 mRNA expression were increased in subregions of the dorsal raphe nucleus in the HFD, relative to control diet. Specific bacterial taxa were associated with increased serotonergic gene expression in the cDRD. Thus, we propose that HFD-induced obesity is associated with altered microbiome-gut-serotonergic brain axis signaling, leading to increased anxiety-related defensive behavioral responses in rats.

Keywords: tph2; Anxiety; Dorsal raphe nucleus; High-fat diet; Microbiome; Microbiome-gut-brain axis; Obesity; Raphe nuclei; Serotonergic system; Serotonin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety* / microbiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain-Gut Axis* / physiology
  • Diet, High-Fat* / adverse effects
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / physiology
  • Male
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / microbiology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / physiology