There is increasing evidence that gut microbes may be recruited to help improve mental health, adding to the treatment options that are currently available. This is according to a new article by a neuroscientist from UT Southwestern.
The impact of the gut microbiome has been widely studied by scientists. However, studies have mostly focused on how it can affect intestinal and systemic health.
This new article by Dr. Jane Foster, a professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern, highlights how scientists are building growing evidence on how gut microbes could also impact the neurological and emotional health of a person. Research is revealing a link between the microbiome and disorders including depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Findings were discussed in the article published in the journal Science.
Studying the relationship between gut microbes and mental health
Dr. Foster was the first researcher to report a link between gut microbes and anxiety in mice. According to her, studies using animal models have bared some microbes and allied metabolites that fuel behavior and brain function similar to those seen in anxiety.
The professor of psychiatry was with Ontario’s McMaster University before joining the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) at UT Southwestern in May. She also served as a co-molecular head of The Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression (CAN-BIND).
The CDRC is known for carrying out research into unipolar and bipolar depression regularly. It aims to better grasp the factors that trigger these conditions and to find or fine-tune existing treatments.
Dr. Foster disclosed that she was drawn to the CDRC by UT Southwestern’s approach that combines research and clinical care.
“That holistic approach is necessary if we are going to find better answers for people suffering with mental illness,” she said.
Dr. Foster is leading a team of researchers at UT Southwestern that is looking to unravel a link between gut microbes and the chances of developing a brain disorder. She said they are looking to use biology to work out “the biomarkers that can help define the different clusters of people” at risk for or diagnosed with depression.
There are multiple options currently available for treating mental illnesses. They include antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and deep brain stimulation. However, decisions on which to employ mainly depend on patient behavior and self-report or – in certain cases – imaging and EEGs, said Dr. Foster.
There was an earlier collaboration between Dr. Foster and Dr. Madhukar H. Trivedi, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the CDRC. Together, they tried to identify immune markers in blood samples to figure out the role, if any, that inflammation plays in depression. The samples were obtained through CAN-BIND.
The researchers also studied stool samples from the longitudinal Texas Resilience Against Depression study.
A custom-made therapy may be possible where a depression patient’s sample produces specific microbial markers that are indicative of treatment success with antidepressants or other therapies.
“By expanding on the individual patient’s profile, can we now improve the number of people that respond to a particular treatment?” Dr. Foster wondered.
Findings published in this article could lead to the development or discovery of new therapies that can better amend symptoms and boost clinical outcomes of mental illnesses.