In a new study, scientists have identified an enzyme called gut bacteria that may help repair damaged neurons in the brain.
The team found that the bacteria, called gut-derived neurotrophic factor, is linked to brain cell death in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the Massachusetts General Hospital also tested mice that had Alzheimer’s and found that gut-generated neurotrophic factors restored memory and prevented brain damage.
“These findings provide strong evidence that gut bacteria play an important role in brain injury, a major challenge in Alzheimer’s research,” the study’s authors wrote.
“Gut-derived neuroprotective agents, such as gut-based gut-specific neurotrophic-factor (GnTNF) and gut-associated neurotrophic peptide (GATP), are promising therapeutic targets for brain injury.”
The researchers identified the enzyme as gut neuroprotrophin, and their discovery could shed light on how gut bacteria affect the body’s ability to heal and repair damaged cells.
The gut-produced neurotrophic effector is a peptide that can be found in the gut, and it’s known to regulate the production of neurotrophic proteins.
The new study shows that gut microbiota in the intestines can increase the production and expression of neurotrophin-like peptides, leading to a reduction in cell death.
Researchers also found that mice lacking the gut-induced neurotrophic protein-1 (GIT-1) had reduced levels of GIT-2, a protein that plays a role in the immune system.
“While gut-mediated neurotrophic signaling may play a role for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, this is the first study to identify gut-driven neurotrophic responses in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s,” said co-senior author Michael A. Tullio, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Harvard University.
“This may suggest that gut neuroinflammation could also be a target for the development of new therapeutics.”
The study appears in the March 7 issue of Cell Stem Cell.