This collection of reviews focuses on the gut-brain axis, highlighting crosstalk between the gastrointestinal tract and the enteric and central nervous systems. While the enteric nervous system can exert independent control over the gut, multi-directional communication with the central nervous system, as well as intestinal epithelial, stromal, immune, and enteroendocrine cells can result in wide-ranging influences on health and disease. The gut microbiome and its metabolites add further complexity to this intricate interactive network. Reviews in this series take a critical approach to describing the role of gut-brain connections in conditions affecting both gut and brain, with the common goal of illuminating the importance of the central and enteric nervous system interface in disease pathogenesis and identifying nodes that offer therapeutic potential.
Modern research on gastrointestinal behavior has revealed it to be a highly complex bidirectional process in which the gut sends signals to the brain, via spinal and vagal visceral afferent pathways, and receives sympathetic and parasympathetic inputs. Concomitantly, the enteric nervous system within the bowel, which contains intrinsic primary afferent neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons, also senses the enteric environment and controls the detailed patterns of intestinal motility and secretion. The vast microbiome that is resident within the enteric lumen is yet another contributor, not only to gut behavior, but to the bidirectional signaling process, so that the existence of a microbiota-gut-brain “connectome” has become apparent. The interaction between the microbiota, the bowel, and the brain now appears to be neither a top-down nor a bottom-up process. Instead, it is an ongoing, tripartite conversation, the outline of which is beginning to emerge and is the subject of this Review. We emphasize aspects of the exponentially increasing knowledge of the microbiota-gut-brain “connectome” and focus attention on the roles that serotonin, Toll-like receptors, and macrophages play in signaling as exemplars of potentially generalizable mechanisms.
Michael D. Gershon, Kara Gross Margolis
Given the crucial role of the gastrointestinal tract and associated organs in handling nutrient assimilation and metabolism, it has long been known that its communication with the brain is important for the control of ingestive behavior and body weight regulation. It is also clear that gut-brain communication is bidirectional and utilizes both rapid neural and slower humoral mechanisms and pathways. However, progress in understanding these mechanisms and leveraging them for the treatment of obesity and metabolic disease has been hindered by the enormous dimension of the gut mucosa, the complexity of the signaling systems, and lack of specific tools. With the ascent of modern neurobiological technology, our understanding of the role of vagal afferents in gut-brain communication has begun to change. The first function-specific populations of vagal afferents providing nutritional feedback as well as feed-forward signals have been identified with genetics-guided methodology, and it is hoped that extension of the methodology to other neural communication pathways will follow soon. Currently, efficient clinical leveraging of gut-brain communication to treat obesity and metabolic disease is limited to a few gut hormones, but a more complete understanding of function-specific and projection-specific neuronal populations should make it possible to develop selective and more effective neuromodulation approaches.
Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, Vance L. Albaugh, Winfried L. Neuhuber
The extrinsic and autonomic nervous system intricately controls the major functions of the gastrointestinal tract through the enteric nervous system; these include motor, secretory, sensory, storage, and excretory functions. Disorders of the nervous system affecting gastrointestinal tract function manifest primarily as abnormalities in motor (rather than secretory) functions. Common gastrointestinal symptoms in neurologic disorders include sialorrhea, dysphagia, gastroparesis, intestinal pseudo-obstruction, constipation, diarrhea, and fecal incontinence. Diseases of the entire neural axis ranging from the cerebral hemispheres to the peripheral autonomic nerves can result in gastrointestinal motility disorders. The most common neurologic diseases affecting gastrointestinal function are stroke, parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, and diabetic neuropathy. Diagnosis involves identification of the neurologic disease and its distribution, and documentation of segmental gut dysfunction, typically using noninvasive imaging, transit measurements, or intraluminal measurements of pressure activity and coordination of motility. Apart from treatment of the underlying neurologic disease, management focuses on restoration of normal hydration and nutrition and pharmacologic treatment of the gut neuromuscular disorder.
The gut microbiota has the capacity to affect host appetite via intestinal satiety pathways, as well as complex feeding behaviors. In this Review, we highlight recent evidence that the gut microbiota can modulate food preference across model organisms. We discuss effects of the gut microbiota on the vagus nerve and brain regions including the hypothalamus, mesolimbic system, and prefrontal cortex, which play key roles in regulating feeding behavior. Crosstalk between commensal bacteria and the central and peripheral nervous systems is associated with alterations in signaling of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides such as dopamine, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). We further consider areas for future research on mechanisms by which gut microbes may influence feeding behavior involving these neural pathways. Understanding roles for the gut microbiota in feeding regulation will be important for informing therapeutic strategies to treat metabolic and eating disorders.
Kristie B. Yu, Elaine Y. Hsiao
The gut-brain axis (GBA) refers to the complex interactions between the gut microbiota and the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, together linking brain and gut functions. Perturbations of the GBA have been reported in people with multiple sclerosis (pwMS), suggesting a possible role in disease pathogenesis and making it a potential therapeutic target. While research in the area is still in its infancy, a number of studies revealed that pwMS are more likely to exhibit altered microbiota, altered levels of short chain fatty acids and secondary bile products, and increased intestinal permeability. However, specific microbes and metabolites identified across studies and cohorts vary greatly. Small clinical and preclinical trials in pwMS and mouse models, in which microbial composition was manipulated through the use of antibiotics, fecal microbiota transplantation, and probiotic supplements, have provided promising outcomes in preventing CNS inflammation. However, results are not always consistent, and large-scale randomized controlled trials are lacking. Herein, we give an overview of how the GBA could contribute to MS pathogenesis, examine the different approaches tested to modulate the GBA, and discuss how they may impact neuroinflammation and demyelination in the CNS.
Laura Ghezzi, Claudia Cantoni, Gabriela V. Pinget, Yanjiao Zhou, Laura Piccio
Neurodegenerative disorders (NDs) affect essential functions not only in the CNS, but also cause persistent gut dysfunctions, suggesting that they have an impact on both CNS and gut-innervating neurons. Although the CNS biology of NDs continues to be well studied, how gut-innervating neurons, including those that connect the gut to the brain, are affected by or involved in the etiology of these debilitating and progressive disorders has been understudied. Studies in recent years have shown how CNS and gut biology, aided by the gut-brain connecting neurons, modulate each other’s functions. These studies underscore the importance of exploring the gut-innervating and gut-brain connecting neurons of the CNS and gut function in health, as well as the etiology and progression of dysfunction in NDs. In this Review, we discuss our current understanding of how the various gut-innervating neurons and gut physiology are involved in the etiology of NDs, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to cause progressive CNS and persistent gut dysfunction.
Alpana Singh, Ted M. Dawson, Subhash Kulkarni
The gastrointestinal tract comprises a complex ecosystem with extensive opportunities for functional interactions between neoplastic epithelial cells and stromal, immune, neuronal, glial, and other cell types, as well as microorganisms and metabolites within the gut lumen. In this Review, we focus on interactions between gastrointestinal cancers and elements of the central and enteric nervous systems. This previously understudied but rapidly emerging area of investigation has blossomed in recent years, particularly with respect to improved understanding of neural contributions to the development and progression of esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and colon neoplasia. Cancer neuroscience offers great promise to advance our understanding of how neural-cancer interactions promote alimentary tract neoplasia. The resulting mechanistic insights can be leveraged to identify diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, and to develop novel therapeutic interventions.
Alyssa Schledwitz, Guofeng Xie, Jean-Pierre Raufman
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a chronic and progressive disease, and management requires an understanding of both the primary neurological injury and the secondary sequelae that affect peripheral organs, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The brain-gut axis is composed of bidirectional pathways through which TBI-induced neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration impact gut function. The resulting TBI-induced dysautonomia and systemic inflammation contribute to the secondary GI events, including dysmotility and increased mucosal permeability. These effects shape, and are shaped by, changes in microbiota composition and activation of resident and recruited immune cells. Microbial products and immune cell mediators in turn modulate brain-gut activity. Importantly, secondary enteric inflammatory challenges prolong systemic inflammation and worsen TBI-induced neuropathology and neurobehavioral deficits. The importance of brain-gut communication in maintaining GI homeostasis highlights it as a viable therapeutic target for TBI. Currently, treatments directed toward dysautonomia, dysbiosis, and/or systemic inflammation offer the most promise.
Marie Hanscom, David J. Loane, Terez Shea-Donohue