Gut Microbiota and the Gut-Brain Axis: New Insights in the Pathophysiology of Metabolic Syndrome

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ObjectiveEmerging preclinical evidence has shown that the bidirectional signaling between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the brain, the so-called gut-brain axis, plays an important role in both host metabolism and behavior. In this review, we discuss the potential mechanisms of the brain-gut axis in relation to the pathophysiology of metabolic syndrome.MethodsA selective literature review was conducted to evaluate GI and brain interactions.ResultsEvidence suggests reduced microbial diversity in obesity and metabolic dysregulation. However, findings of microbiota composition in obese individuals are inconsistent, and the investigation of causality between gut microbiota and energy homeostasis is complex because multiple variables contribute to the gut microbiota composition. The microbial metabolites short chain fatty acids are found to exert numerous physiologic effects, including energy homeostasis through the regulation of GI hormones such as cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide 1, peptide tyrosine-tyrosine, and leptin. Preclinical studies show that modifying rodents' microbiota through fecal transplantation results in alterations of these GI hormones and subsequently an altered metabolism and behavior. However, whether and to what extent preclinical findings translate to human metabolism is unclear.ConclusionsOne of the major limitations and challenges in this field of research is interindividual variability of the microbiome. Future research needs to combine recent insights gained into tracking the dynamics of the microbiome as well as the metabolic responses. Furthermore, advanced mapping of the human microbiome is required to investigate the metabolic implications of the gut-brain axis to develop targeted interventions for obesity and metabolic syndrome.

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