Gut bacteria research highlights a pathway in neurodegeneration

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Once again scientists are looking to the gut to find therapeutic pathways that lead to the rest of the body. A team of investigators at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says that they’ve found evidence that bacteria in the gut plays a key role in brain cell activity, pointing to possible therapeutic targets for neurodegeneration and brain inflammation.

"What we eat influences the ability of bacteria in our gut to produce small molecules, some of which are capable of traveling all the way to the brain,” says Francisco Quintana, PhD, an investigator in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH. “This opens up an area that's largely been unknown until now: how the gut controls brain inflammation."

Quintana and his colleagues reached their conclusion after performing genome wide transcriptional analyses on astrocytes in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. 

They found that molecules from “dietary tryptophan, an amino acid famously found in turkey and other foods,” played a key role on the pathway, with the astrocytes tamping down on destructive inflammation.

"Deficits in the gut flora, deficits in the diet or deficits in the ability to uptake these products from the gut flora or transport them from the gut -- any of these may lead to deficits that contribute to disease progression," said Quintana.

The team now plans to continue their exploration of this pathway in the search for new therapies and biomarkers for the disease.

The microbiome has emerged as a big new field in biotech R&D over the last few years, and academic research projects like this promise to spark the creation of more startups focused on gut bacteria.