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Researchers at the University of Oxford have proposed an evolutionary framework to understand why microbes living in the gut affect the brain and behaviour, published in Nature Reviews Microbiology.

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Katerina Johnson (Department of Experimental Psychology) and Kevin Foster (Department of Zoology) assessed data from studies on the gut-brain axis to suggest how ‘that gut feeling’ evolved.

Research has shown that gut bacteria (especially species belonging to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) can influence social behaviour, anxiety, stress and depressive-like behaviour. Katerina explained: “We know there are numerous possible mechanisms, including communication via the vagus nerve (major nerve linking the gut and brain), the immune system and hormonal changes, as well as the production of neuroactive chemicals by gut microbes. But why should we expect gut bacteria to affect behaviour at all?” In their paper, Johnson and Foster consider the evolutionary pressures that may have led to ‘that gut feeling’.

Find out more (University of Oxford website)