There is growing evidence for a role of the gut microbiome in shaping behaviour relevant to many psychiatric and neurological disorders. Preclinical studies using germ-free (GF) animals have been essential in contributing to our current understanding of the potential importance of the host microbiome for neurodevelopment and behaviour. In particular, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that manipulation of the gut microbiome modulates anxiety-like behaviours. The neural circuits that underlie anxiety- and fear-related behaviours are complex and heavily depend on functional communication between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Previously, we have shown that the transcriptional networks within the amygdala and PFC of GF mice are altered. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) act through translational repression to control gene translation and have also been implicated in anxiety-like behaviours. However, it is unknown whether these features of host post-transcriptional machinery are also recruited by the gut microbiome to exert control over CNS transcriptional networks.
We conducted Illumina® next-generation sequencing (NGS) in the amygdala and PFC of conventional, GF and germ-free colonized mice (exGF). We found a large proportion of miRNAs to be dysregulated in GF animals in both brain regions (103 in the amygdala and 31 in the PFC). Additionally, colonization of GF mice normalized some of the noted alterations. Next, we used a complementary approach to GF by manipulating the adult rat microbiome with an antibiotic cocktail to deplete the gut microbiota and found that this strategy also impacted the expression of relevant miRNAs.
These results suggest that the microbiome is necessary for appropriate regulation of miRNA expression in brain regions implicated in anxiety-like behaviours.