FEMS Microbiology Letters Article Award 2021

02-03-22 Joseph Shuttleworth

Gargi Dey and Sohom Mookherjee are the winners of the best 2021 MiniReview award in our journal FEMS Microbiology Letters. The Editor-in-Chiefs and Section Editors picked  as  their favourite MiniReview: Probiotics-targeting new milestones from gut health to mental health. They really liked the clear overview it gives on relationships between probiotics and a healthy body and mind.

We interviewed all of the authors to find out more about the inspiration behind their paper:

Left to right: Sohom Mookherjee and Gargi Dey

Could you provide a brief, simple overview of the topic your paper covers?

Psychobiotics are defined as probiotics that confer mental health benefits to the host when consumed in a particular quantity through the interaction with commensal gut bacteria.

Our paper reviews the recent advances on psychobiotics (Lactobacillus sp and Bifidobacterium sp) to assess whether these strains have the potential to be the next generation biotherapeutics to manage mental and neurological conditions.  We first summarized the proposed mechanism of action of psychobiotics (Fig 1).”

Figure 1: Proposed Mode of action of probiotics as psychobiotics

We then reviewed the reported results of clinical trials on psychobiotic administration. It appears that clinical trials on psychobiotics are hetergenous. They have been tested on a diverse neurological (Alzheimer, Parkinsons, Autism) and psychiatric (Anxiety, depression) conditions. Consequently, the evidences are both confirmatory and contradictory. Another important corollary of our review is that ‘all probiotics cannot function as psychobiotics”.

In spite of and may be because of the present ambiguity and criticisms from some of the experts, the field is garnering lot research interest. In the next few years, this field is expected to get deeper insights into the mechanism of action of psychobiotics.”

How important are probiotics in affecting mental health?

Anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other stress-related disorders have been considered as one of the global disease burden. Unfortunately, the prevalence of these conditions has been on the rise especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Need of the hour is direct or alternative strategies for better management of mental health.  Recent research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience and psychiatry has indicated that optimal nutrition may serve as a potential avenue to preserve cognitive function and improve mental health.

In this regard, probiotics can aid in targeted modulation of the bidirectional communication between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system.  Selected probiotic strains that secrete neurochemicals (Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), Serotonin, L-Glutamate, Dopamine), which are now called Psychobiotics, are being explored for modulation of the gut-microbiota. The hypothesis is that their administration can result in long-lasting beneficial consequences for mental health. Researchers have compiled data that have demonstrated the positive effects on the psycho-physiological variables of human subjects.

Pitched against chemical therapeutics, the probiotics administered as psychobiotics may have a better chance. An advantage of using probiotic strains is that they are time tested safe cultures of Lactic acid bacteria (LAB). These LAB strains are integral part of diet in the form of many fermented food products throughout the world.  In fact, some of the recent publications have reported that probiotics used as psychobiotics, were well tolerated and were not associated with any significant side effects in patients of major depressive disorder. This is important because it means that psychobiotics could be instrumental in maintaining and restoring mental health, with less dependency on psychotropic drugs.”

What encouraged you to perform research in this area of microbiology?

For several years we have been working on probiotics and dietary phenolic combinations and evaluating their influence on gut inflammatory conditions. During this phase we had collected numerous scientific literatures that supported the theory of gut microbiota being a critical component of the bi-directional communications between gastro intestinal (GI) tract and central nervous system (CNS).  Considering that psychobiotics are essentially probiotics strains with additional potential, it was a logical transition for us to become interested in this field and evaluate their potential.

We are especially interested in its possible linking with food microbiology. Many promising probiotics strains have been established among the LAB cultures isolated from fermented foods. In our lab we have established a few candidate probiotics which have shown significant anti-inflammatory potential, which is one of the desirable traits of potential psychobiotics. Based on our finding we plan to extend our evaluation of these probiotic strains to test their potential as psychobiotics, first through animal studies.”

What do you see as the next steps in this area of research?

Currently, this field is underexplored with enormous scope for research and the possibility of immense contribution. It calls for an integrative framework for multidisciplinary research incorporating the following aspects of development of efficient cell line for screening of psychobiotics, to perfecting the suitable animal models for testing, to discovering the suitable biomarkers and endpoints to evaluate the efficacy of psychobiotics in human trials.

Elucidation of mechanisms of psychobiotic action in human subjects is still pending. Some critical factors like duration of treatment, dosage of psychobiotics, and interactions with concomitant therapies, deserve more detailed investigation.

One of the most fascinating aspects and long-term goals in this area would be to target individual gut microbiome structure and design personalized psychobiotics to address specific mental neurological conditions.”

Read the 2021 award winning MiniReview: Probiotics-targeting new milestones from gut health to mental health.

See more FEMS Journals Article Awards

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