Recent evidence has linked the gut microbiome to host behavior via the gut-brain axis [1-3]; however, the underlying mechanisms remain unexplored. Here, we determined the links between host genetics, the gut microbiome and memory using the genetically defined Collaborative Cross (CC) mouse cohort, complemented with microbiome and metabolomic analyses in conventional and germ-free (GF) mice. A genome-wide association analysis (GWAS) identified 715 of 76,080 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were significantly associated with short-term memory using the passive avoidance model. The identified SNPs were enriched in genes known to be involved in learning and memory functions. By 16S rRNA gene sequencing of the gut microbial community in the same CC cohort, we identified specific microorganisms that were significantly correlated with longer latencies in our retention test, including a positive correlation with Lactobacillus. Inoculation of GF mice with individual species of Lactobacillus (L. reuteri F275, L. plantarum BDGP2 or L. brevis BDGP6) resulted in significantly improved memory compared to uninoculated or E. coli DH10B inoculated controls. Untargeted metabolomics analysis revealed significantly higher levels of several metabolites, including lactate, in the stools of Lactobacillus-colonized mice, when compared to GF control mice. Moreover, we demonstrate that dietary lactate treatment alone boosted memory in conventional mice. Mechanistically, we show that both inoculation with Lactobacillus or lactate treatment significantly increased the levels of the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), in the hippocampus of the mice. Together, this study provides new evidence for a link between Lactobacillus and memory and our results open possible new avenues for treating memory impairment disorders using specific gut microbial inoculants and/or metabolites. Video Abstract.
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