Gut Fungi Influence Social Behavior Through Brain Signals

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The lining of the intestine must balance conflicting needs, absorbing water and nutrients from food while acting as a barrier to prevent the vast population of microbes in the gut from invading the bloodstream.

Examining this system in a mouse model, the scientists mapped the locations of different fungi within the intestine and found that a unique consortium of fungi tends to accumulate at specific sites near the gut epithelium, or lining, suggesting that these species have colonized the gut and interact closely with the nearby epithelial cells.

Mice carrying some of these fungi enjoyed better protection against events that can disrupt the intestinal barrier, such as intestinal injury and bacterial infection.

Improving intestinal barrier integrity wasn’t the only effect of the fungi. In separate experiments, the team found that mice carrying the fungal community in their gut displayed more social behavior than animals without these fungi.

Both effects appear to stem from the animals’ T cells, a type of immune cell. The fungi cause T cells to secrete two immune signaling proteins, cytokines IL-22 and IL-17.

Fungi-induced IL-22 acts locally in the epithelium, strengthening its barrier function, while IL-17 enters the bloodstream and eventually reaches neurons, which have receptors for it. Mice lacking the IL-17 receptor in their neurons don’t exhibit the social effects of fungal colonization.

Researchers hope to explore that communication network further into the mechanisms of this interaction, looking at the signals that are involved at the neuronal level in different brain regions.

One tantalizing possibility is that different microbial communities in the gut could stimulate different regions of the brain and the immune system, exerting distinct effects on their hosts’ biology.

Source: Medindia

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