Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis

Behavioural Brain Research
Volume 277, 15 January 2015, Pages 32–48
Special Issue: Serotonin

Highlights

  • Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter in the brain-gut axis.
  • The gut microbiome is also critical to the normal functioning of the brain-gut axis.
  • Behaviour linked to serotonergic neurotransmission is influenced by gut microbiota.
  • Development of the gut microbiome overlaps the ontogeny of the serotonergic system.
  • The gut microbiota is an appealing therapeutic target for brain-gut axis disorders.

Abstract

The brain-gut axis is a bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin functions as a key neurotransmitter at both terminals of this network. Accumulating evidence points to a critical role for the gut microbiome in regulating normal functioning of this axis. In particular, it is becoming clear that the microbial influence on tryptophan metabolism and the serotonergic system may be an important node in such regulation. There is also substantial overlap between behaviours influenced by the gut microbiota and those which rely on intact serotonergic neurotransmission. The developing serotonergic system may be vulnerable to differential microbial colonisation patterns prior to the emergence of a stable adult-like gut microbiota. At the other extreme of life, the decreased diversity and stability of the gut microbiota may dictate serotonin-related health problems in the elderly. The mechanisms underpinning this crosstalk require further elaboration but may be related to the ability of the gut microbiota to control host tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway, thereby simultaneously reducing the fraction available for serotonin synthesis and increasing the production of neuroactive metabolites. The enzymes of this pathway are immune and stress-responsive, both systems which buttress the brain-gut axis. In addition, there are neural processes in the gastrointestinal tract which can be influenced by local alterations in serotonin concentrations with subsequent relay of signals along the scaffolding of the brain-gut axis to influence CNS neurotransmission. Therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota might be a viable treatment strategy for serotonin-related brain-gut axis disorders.

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