Of bowels, brain and behavior: A role for the gut microbiota in psychiatric comorbidities in irritable bowel syndrome

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2021 Mar;33(3):e14095. doi: 10.1111/nmo.14095.Epub 2021 Feb 13.

Lars Wilmes 1 2 3, James M Collins 1 2, Kenneth J O'Riordan 1, Siobhain M O'Mahony 1 2, John F Cryan 1 2, Gerard Clarke 1 3


Author information

  • 1APC Microbiome Ireland, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
  • 2Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
  • 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.


Background: The gastrointestinal microbiota has emerged as a key regulator of gut-brain axis signalling with important implications for neurogastroenterology. There is continuous bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain facilitated by neuronal, endocrine, metabolic, and immune pathways. The microbiota influences these signalling pathways via several mechanisms. Studies have shown compositional and functional alterations in the gut microbiota in stress-related psychiatric disorders. Gut microbiota reconfigurations are also a feature of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a gut-brain axis disorder sharing high levels of psychiatric comorbidity including both anxiety and depression. It remains unclear how the gut microbiota alterations in IBS align with both core symptoms and these psychiatric comorbidities.

Methods: In this review, we highlight common and disparate features of these microbial signatures as well as the associated gut-brain axis signalling pathways. Studies suggest that patients with either IBS, depression or anxiety, alone or comorbid, present with alterations in gut microbiota composition and harbor immune, endocrine, and serotonergic system alterations relevant to the common pathophysiology of these comorbid conditions.

Key results: Research has illustrated the utility of fecal microbiota transplantation in animal models, expanding the evidence base for a potential causal role of disorder-specific gut microbiota compositions in symptom set expression. Moreover, an exciting study by Constante and colleagues in this issue highlights the possibility of counteracting this microbiota-associated aberrant behavioral phenotype with a probiotic yeast, Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745.

Conclusions and inferences: Such data highlights the potential for therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota as a valuable strategy for the management of comorbid psychiatric symptoms in IBS.

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