In a new study, researchers found that fecal transplants could one day be used as a therapy to restore cognitive function in the elderly.
They showed how fecal transplants from older to younger mice altered their gut microbiome, which in turn impacted their spatial learning and memory.
They hope that reversing the procedure could one day see fecal transplantation used to combat cognitive decline among older people.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of East Anglia, the University of Florence, and the Quadram Institute.
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 behavior and cognitive function.
In the study, the team 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, they found big differences in the young mice’s microbial profiles.
While the young adults showed no changes in markers of anxiety, explorative behavior, or motor activity, they did show impaired spatial learning and memory.
These changes were paralleled by 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 gut microbiota.
The procedure had an impact on the key functions of the hippocampus—an important part of the brain that has a vital role not only in 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.
While it remains to be seen whether transplantation from very young donors can restore cognitive function in aged recipients, the findings demonstrate that age-related shifts in the gut microbiome can change the brain.
This work highlights the importance of the gut-brain axis in aging and provides a strong rationale to develop therapies that restore a young-like gut microbiota to improve cognitive functions and quality of life in older people.
One author of the study is Dr. David Vauzour.
The study is published in the journal Microbiome.
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