Our brain is well protected by a barrier termed the “blood-brain barrier (BBB).” The blood–brain barrier is a highly selective permeability barrier that separates the circulating blood from the brain extracellular fluid (BECF) in the central nervous system (CNS). The stuff that can pass through the blood-brain barrier are highly selective including water, some gases, lipid soluble molecules as well as glucose and amino acids that are crucial to neural function. The barrier exists to protect our brain from potential neurotoxins in the environment.
A recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests that the gut microbes living in our guts can influence the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, meaning that the transport of molecules across the blood-brain barrier can be modulated by our gut microbes — which therefore play an important role in the protection of the brain.
In this study, the investigators compared the integrity and development of the blood-brain barrier between two groups of mice: the first group was raised in an environment where they were exposed to normal bacteria, and the second (called germ-free mice) was kept in a sterile environment without any bacteria. It was observed that the presence of the maternal gut microbiota blocked the passage of labeled antibodies from the circulation into the brain of the growing fetus; In contrast, in age-matched fetuses from germ-free mothers, these labeled antibodies easily crossed the blood-brain barrier and was detected within the brain.
The research also showed that the increased “leakiness” of the blood-brain barrier, observed in germ-free mice from early life, was maintained into adulthood. However, this “leakiness” was repaired when the mice received fecal transplantation from normal gut microbes. Understanding phenomena mechanistically, the researchers was able to show that the tight junction proteins, which are known to be important for the blood-brain barrier permeability, underwent structural changes and had altered levels of expression in the absence of gut bacteria.
The study concludes that gut microbiota can impact brain development and function and further underscore the importance of the maternal microbes during early life. Since dietary structure impacts gut microbes, this means that what you eat does directly affect your brain health.
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Journal Reference: V. Braniste, M. Al-Asmakh, C. Kowal, F. Anuar, A. Abbaspour, M. Toth, A. Korecka, N. Bakocevic, N. L. Guan, P. Kundu, B. Gulyas, C. Halldin, K. Hultenby, H. Nilsson, H. Hebert, B. T. Volpe, B. Diamond, S. Pettersson. The gut microbiota influences blood-brain barrier permeability in mice. Science Translational Medicine, 2014; 6 (263): 263ra158 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009759
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