National Hypnotherapy Society | Scientists identify another way in…

Now, one study's findings seem to suggest that an absence of gut microbiota - otherwise known as gut flora - can have an impact on brain development and behaviour, especially when it comes to anxiety.

The bacteria, fungi and viruses that make up an individual's unique microbiome are usually beneficial to our bodies - evolving over time to rise to various bodily challenges and meet our unique needs - but these new tests performed using mice now suggest they go so far as to keep our brains in tip-top condition, too.

For the study, mice were bred in a germ-free environment - meaning that their bodies did not develop any gut microbiota. They then compared molecules in charge of gene expression in the brains of 10-12 control mice with those of both germ-free mice and mice who were previously germ-free, but had had gut flora introduced to their systems. It was found that the mice without any gut flora showed abnormal levels of anxiety, depressive behaviour and deficits in sociability and cognition. Commenting on this, study author Dr Gerard Clarke discussed the implications. "Our study suggests that some of the hurdles that stand in the way of exploiting the therapeutic potential of miRNAs could be cleared by instead targeting the gut microbiome... It may be possible to modulate miRNAs in the brain for the treatment of psychiatric disorders."

He added: "This is early stage research, but the possibility of achieving the desired impact on miRNAs in specific brain regions by targeting the gut microbiota - for example by using psychobiotics - is an appealing prospect." Dr Clarke also highlighted the difficulties he and his team faced during the study period, specifically when it came to "finding safe and biologically stable compounds that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and then act at the desired location in the brain."