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Gut microbiota changes require vagus nerve integrity to promote depressive-like behaviors in mice.

Chronic stress constitutes a major risk factor for depression that can disrupt various aspects of homeostasis, including the gut microbiome (GM). We have recently shown that GM imbalance affects adult hippocampal (HPC) neurogenesis and induces depression-like behaviors, with the exact mechanisms being under active investigation. Here we hypothesized that the vagus nerve (VN), a key bidirectional route of communication between the gut and the brain, could relay the effects of stress-induced GM changes on HPC plasticity and behavior. We used fecal samples derived from mice that sustained unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS) to inoculate healthy mice and assess standard behavioral readouts for anxiety- and depressive-like behavior, conduct histological and molecular analyses for adult HPC neurogenesis and evaluate neurotransmission pathways and neuroinflammation. To study the potential role of the VN in mediating the effects of GM changes on brain functions and behavior, we used mice that sustained subdiaphragmatic vagotomy (Vx) prior the GM transfer. We found that inoculation of healthy mice with GM from UCMS mice activates the VN and induces early and sustained changes in both serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission pathways in the brainstem and HPC. These changes are associated with prompt and persistent deficits in adult HPC neurogenesis and induce early and sustained neuroinflammatory responses in the HPC. Remarkably, Vx abrogates adult HPC neurogenesis deficits, neuroinflammation and depressive-like behavior, suggesting that vagal afferent pathways are necessary to drive GM-mediated effects on the brain.

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