Can gut microbial activity be used as serotonin drug treatment?

Important Points:

  • Gut bacteria
  • Serotonin
  • Depression

Can gut microbial activity be used as serotonin drug treatment?

Serotonin is known to be the crucial neurotransmitter needed for emotion and behavior regulation. It has been long established that imbalances in serotonin levels are related to depression and bouts of anxiety. Despite being a major neurotransmitter exerting its effect on brain function, up to 90% of our serotonin is produced in the enterochromaffin cells found in the gastrointestinal tract.

The surprising location of its origin may imply a bigger role for serotonin than what researchers have initially thought. This could further support findings that point out that serotonin may not be just a substance that has an exclusive brain significance but also possibly linked to other diseases like osteoporosis and heart disease.

In line with these results regarding the other possible functions of serotonin, researchers from the California Institute of Technology have reported in their study that serotonin could be directly related to microbial activity in the gut. They have discovered that mice without gut microbes produced 60 percent less serotonin compared to those with normal gut bacteria. Upon restoring the presence of normal gut flora, the serotonin levels shot back within normal parameters. This reversible causal relationship seems to prove the hypothesis that serotonin production is heavily reliant on certain types of gut bacteria.

Researchers are now excited to find out which bacteria can be used to modulate the body’s level of serotonin. Once identified, this could be the first step in the path of creating new medications that could possibly support or replace the mode of actions seen in the medication SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors used to treat depression.

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