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The gut microbiota is a complex and dynamic population of microorganisms that is subject to change throughout an individual’s lifespan in response to the aging process. Findings from a new study demonstrate that altering the gut microbial population may alter the aging process of the human brain.

The authors of the study transplanted gut microbiota samples from healthy young or old mice into young germ­-free mice. Eight weeks after the transplant, the mice that received microbial samples from the old mice demonstrated increased neurogenesis – the process of forming new neurons – in the hippocampus region of their brains.

Further analysis revealed that these mice also had larger numbers of butyrate-producing microbes in their colons. Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, is produced during bacterial fermentation in the human colon and has wide-ranging effects on human physiology. In this study, butyrate was associated with an increase in growth factors and subsequent activation of key longevity signaling pathways in the livers of the recipient mice. When butyrate alone was given to the recipient mice it promoted neurogenesis, as well.

The findings from this study may have relevance for dietary interventions to maintain or improve brain health.

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