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APC  Scientists Uncover Dietary Mechanism to Reverse the Effects of Stress

by Prof John Cryan


Hippocrates said “Led food be thy medicine” and efforts are increasing to develop dietary strategies to target stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety.

There is growing evidence that microbes in the gut can play a key role in regulating brain functions, particularly emotional processing and behaviour.  Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. Two such prebiotics, similar to those naturally found in breast milk and some vegetables, are the soluble fibres fructo- (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).

APC Microbiome Institute scientists, led by Prof John Cryan and Prof Ted Dinan, have shown that a combination of these two prebiotics, in particular, could modulate anxiety, cognition and stress-related behaviors in healthy mice.  The research also shows that these prebiotics modified specific gene expression in key brain regions. FOS/GOS treatment also reduced chronic stress-induced elevations in stress hormones and immune factors, in addition to stress-induced depressive-like and anxiety-like behavior. Taken together, these data strongly suggest a beneficial role of prebiotic treatment for stress-related behaviours. These findings strengthen the evidence base supporting therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota for brain-gut axis disorders, offering new avenues in the field of nutritional psychiatry.

“This opens up a very exciting dietary approach in to counter the effects of stress” says Prof. John F. Cryan who led the study along with Prof Ted. Dinan. “If such robust findings could be translated to humans we may have a whole new “psychobiotic” way of managing stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders” Cryan says.

This research, which has just been accepted for publication in the high impact factor journal Biological Psychiatry, was conducted at University College Cork by Drs. Aurelijus Burokas, Rachel D. Moloney, Gerard Clarke and Veronica L Peterson and at Teagasc Moorepark by Prof Catherine Stanton, Drs Silvia Arboleya and Kiera Murphy.

 Aurelijus Burokas, Silvia Arboleya, Rachel D. Moloney, Veronica L. Peterson, Kiera Murphy, Gerard Clarke, Catherine Stanton, Timothy G. Dinan and John F. Cryan (2017) Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis:  Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice. Biological Psychiatry, In Press


Photo (left to right): Profs John Cryan and Ted Dinan, APC Microbiome Insitute, University College Cork.