The Microbiome as a Novel Paradigm in Studying Stress and Mental Health

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At the intersection between neuroscience, microbiology, and psychiatry, the enteric microbiome has potential to become a novel paradigm for studying the psychobiological underpinnings of mental illness. Several studies provide support for the view that the enteric microbiome influences behavior through the microbiota–gut–brain axis. Moreover, recent findings are suggestive of the possibility that dysregulation of the enteric microbiota (i.e., dysbiosis) and associated bacterial translocation across the intestinal epithelium may be involved in the pathophysiology of stress-related psychiatric disorders, particularly depression. The current article reviews preliminary evidence linking the enteric microbiota and its metabolites to psychiatric illness, along with separate lines of empirical inquiry on the potential involvement of psychosocial stressors, proinflammatory cytokines and neuroinflammation, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, and vagal nerve activation, respectively, in this relationship. Finally, and drawing on these independent lines of research, an integrative conceptual model is proposed in which stress-induced enteric dysbiosis and intestinal permeability confer risk for negative mental health outcomes through immunoregulatory, endocrinal, and neural pathways.

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