Gut to brain: short-chain fatty acids may hold potential to improve stroke recovery in mice

Written by Kimberley Ndungu (Future Science Group)

New research by a team from the University of Kentucky (KY, USA) demonstrated that in mice, microorganisms observed in the gut may have the potential to protect brain cells from damage caused by inflammation after a stroke.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study indicated that supplementing the body’s short-chain fatty acids could improve stroke recovery.

Short-chain fatty acids, which are produced by the gut’s microbiome, play an essential role in gut health. It is already known that the microbiome can influence brain health and the central nervous system, however, its role in stroke recovery is not well understood.

“There is a growing amount of evidence that inflammation can be influenced by the microbiome and now we are learning how it affects neuroinflammation after brain injury,” commented study co-author, Ann Stowe (University of Kentucky).

The team of researchers added short-chain fatty acids to the drinking water of male mice and discovered that this improved stroke recovery when compared with mice that had regular water.

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The fatty acid-supplemented mice demonstrated increased spine growth on the dendrites of nerve cells and reduced limb motor impairments, which are both crucial for memory structure. Further, following RNA sequencing of the forebrain cortex, the researchers also observed that these mice expressed more genes related to microglia.

The team’s findings suggest that short-chain fatty acids may act as a messenger in the gut–brain axis and thus influence the brain’s response to injury.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (GA, USA) reported that stroke is the leading cause for disability in adults and the fifth leading cause for death in the US. Despite this, there are only two US FDA-approved treatments for acute stroke and there are no effective treatments that promote long-term repair of the brain following stroke damage.

Therefore, the results from the current study demonstrate short-chain fatty acids as a potential new, safe and practical therapeutic that could improve stroke patient’s recovery by adding supplements to their diet.

“If we can confirm that a dietary supplement could be beneficial to inflammation and recovery after stroke, it could positively impact so many lives. We have nearly 800,000 people a year in the US who are affected by stroke,” explained Stowe.

Following the promising results from the current study, the next steps are focused on behavioral tests as well as investigating the effects of short-chain fatty acids on specific immune cell populations.

Sources: Sadler R, Cramer JV, Heindl S et al. Short-chain fatty acids improve post-stroke recovery via immunological mechanisms. J. Neurosci. doi:doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1359-19.2019 (2019) (Epub ahead of print); https://uknow.uky.edu/research/gut-microbes-may-improve-stroke-recovery