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Gut bacteria may protect brain during early life

Posted:  Thursday, December 04, 2014

Turns out, that the miniature microbial residents in our gut exert great control over our body than it has been perceived previously. Emerging evidence has revealed that the gut bacteria may be involved in controlling the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which filters out harmful substances from the blood.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, provides experimental evidence that the gut microflora contribute to the mechanism involved in closing the blood-brain barrier before birth. It also found that any shift in the composition of the gut bacteria may impact brain development and function.

As part of the study, the team of researchers compared the integrity and development of the blood brain barrier in two groups of mice; the first group of mice were raised in a normal bacterial environment, while the second group consisted of germ-free mice kept in a sterile environment. They found that the transport of certain molecules across the blood-brain barrier can be influenced by the gut bacteria. The germ free mice displayed leakiness of the blood-brain barrier, an effect they carried in adulthood.

“We showed that the presence of maternal gut microbiota during late pregnancy blocked the passage of labelled antibodies from the circulation into the brain parenchyma of the growing foetus. In contrast, in age-matched foetuses from germ-free mothers, these labelled antibodies easily crossed the blood-brain barrier and were detected in the brain parenchyma,” said the researchers.

Although the mechanisms behind these interactions were not clear, the researchers found that the tight junction proteins, known to be important in blood-brain barrier permeability, underwent structural changes and altered levels of expression in the absence of the gut bacteria.

These interesting findings have helped identify the far-reaching effects of the gut bacteria. This knowledge can be used to increase the efficacy of brain cancer drugs by modulating the blood-brain barrier through the gut bacteria. This association can also be explored in treatment regimes employed to strengthen the blood-brain barrier.

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