Gut microbes may lead to treatments for mental illness, UTSW researcher reports

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Newsworthy – The role of the microbiome in gut and systemic health has received much attention among researchers for many years. Now, evidence is mounting that this collection of microorganisms in the human gut can also affect a person’s neurological and emotional health, according to a recent perspective article in Science by a UT Southwestern researcher.

Neuroscientist Jane Foster, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and a leading expert on the microbiome, outlines how researchers are unraveling the microbiome’s relationship to the brain, including links to diseases such as depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ). Dr. Foster, who was the first to link microbes in the guts of mice to anxiety, said animal studies have revealed certain microbes and related metabolites that increase anxiety-like behavior and brain function. Translation of these findings to clinical populations may lead to new therapies to improve symptoms and clinical outcomes.

Dr. Foster joined UT Southwestern and its Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) in May to lead efforts to connect the dots between a person’s 39 trillion gut microbes and their susceptibility to brain disease. She was previously a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and co-molecular leader of The Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression (CAN-BIND).

“People who are at risk for depression or diagnosed with depression are heterogeneous. So we want to use biology to understand the biomarkers that can help define the different clusters of people,” said Dr. Foster.

She said UT Southwestern’s approach, which is built on the premise that clinical care and research go hand in hand, attracted her to join the center.

“The holistic approach is necessary if we are to find better answers for people suffering from mental illness,” said Dr. Fetus.

CDRC conducts research into unipolar and bipolar depression to better understand the causes of depression, identify new treatments, and improve existing ones.

“I am very pleased that we were able to recruit Dr. Foster to join our center, given our continued goal of investigating the biosignature of mental health through a multi-pronged approach,” said Madhukar H. Trivedi, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of CDRC.

Dr. Foster and Trivedi previously collaborated to look for immune markers in blood samples obtained through CAN-BIND to see how inflammation might affect depression, and in stool samples collected from participants in the longitudinal Texas Resilience Against Depression study. If the sample from a patient with depression yields certain microbes associated with treatment success from certain antidepressants or therapies, this could drive personalized medicine for that patient.

“Currently, we have a multitude of treatment options, but decisions are predominantly based on behavior and self-report, and imaging and EEGs in some cases,” said Dr. Fetus. “Antidepressants typically work for only about 40% of people. Other choices include cognitive behavioral therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and diet. By expanding the profile of the individual patient, can we now improve the number of people who respond to a particular treatment?”

Dr. Trivedi holds the Betty Jo Hay Distinguished Chair in Mental Health, and the Julie K. Hersh Chair for Depression Research and Clinical Care.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, integrates cutting-edge biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to rapidly translating science-driven research into new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 inpatients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits annually.



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