In a new study, researchers found fecal transplants could one day be used as a therapy to restore cognitive function in the elderly.
They found how fecal transplants from older to younger mice altered their gut microbiome, which in turn impacted their spatial learning and memory.
The researchers hope that reversing the procedure could one day see fecal transplantation used to combat cognitive decline among the elderly.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of East Anglia and elsewhere.
Aging is an inevitable process that starts immediately after birth and ultimately leads to physical health problems as well as a decline in psychological well-being and cognitive function.
Research has shown that the aging process may be linked with age-related changes in our gut microbiota.
Recently, the existence of two-way communication between the gut and the brain—known as the ‘gut-brain axis’ – has emerged as an important player in shaping aspects of behavior and cognitive function.
In the study, the team wanted to see whether transferring gut microbes from older to younger mice could affect parts of the central nervous system associated with aging.
They performed fecal transplants from older adult mice to younger adult mice and then assessed the young adults for markers such as anxiety, exploratory behavior, and memory.
After the transplantation, the team found big differences in the young mice’s microbial profiles.
While the young adults showed no significant changes in markers of anxiety, explorative behavior, or locomotor activity, they did show impaired spatial learning and memory as measured in a maze test.
These changes were paralleled by alterations in the expression of proteins linked to synaptic plasticity and neurotransmission, and changes to cells in the hippocampus part of their brains—responsible for learning and memory.
The research shows that fecal transplantation from an old donor to a young recipient causes an age-associated shift in the composition of gut microbiota.
The team says the procedure had an impact on the expression of proteins involved in key functions of the hippocampus—an important part of the brain that has a vital role in a variety of functions including memory, learning but also in spatial navigation and emotional behavior and mood.
In short, the young mice began to behave like older mice, in terms of their cognitive function.
This work highlights the importance of the gut-brain axis in aging and provides a strong rationale to devise therapies aiming to restore a young-like microbiota to improve cognitive functions and quality of life in the elderly.
One author of the study is Dr. David Vauzour from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
The study is published in the journal Microbiome.
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