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Role of the gut-brain axis in early stress-induced emotional vulnerability

Abstract : Early-life adversity is a main risk factor for psychiatric disorders at adulthood; however the mechanisms underlying the programming effect of stress during development are still unknown. In rodents, chronic maternal separation has long lasting effects in adult offspring, including hyper-anxiety and hyper-responsiveness to a novel stress, along with gastrointestinal dysfunctions. Moreover, recent studies report gut barrier hyper-permeability in rat pups submitted to maternal separation, an effect that could potentially lead to dysbiosis and altered gut-brain communication. Therefore, the aim of my PhD was to unravel the role of the gut-brain axis in the neurobehavioral effects of early-life stress. We recently reported that some neural, behavioral and endocrine alterations associated with maternal separation in rats could be prevented by maternal exposure to a high-fat diet. We first addressed the effects of maternal high-fat diet on brain and gut during development in the maternal separation model. We show that maternal high-fat diet prevents the stress-induced decrease in spine density and altered dendritic morphology in the medial prefrontal cortex. Moreover, maternal high-fat diet also attenuates the exacerbated intestinal permeability associated with maternal separation. To explore a potential causal impact of gut leakiness on brain functions, we then examined the impact of pharmacological and genetic manipulations of intestinal permeability on brain and behavior. We report 1) that restoration of gut barrier function attenuates some of the behavioral alterations associated with maternal separation and 2) that chronic gut leakiness in naive adult transgenic mice recapitulates the effects of maternal separation. Finally, we examined the effects of multifactorial early-life adversity on behavior, gut function and microbiota composition in males and females using a combination of prenatal inflammation and maternal separation in mice. At adulthood, offspring exposed to early adversity displayed sex-specific behavioral (social behavior deficits in males and increased anxiety in females) and intestinal phenotypes. In conclusion, our work demonstrates an impact of gut dysfunctions, in particular gut leakiness, on the emergence of emotional alterations. Further studies are needed to unravel the role of the gut dysbiosis in the expression of the behavioral phenotypes associated with early-life adversity.
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Marion Rincel. Role of the gut-brain axis in early stress-induced emotional vulnerability. Agricultural sciences. Université de Bordeaux, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017BORD0870⟩. ⟨tel-02419020⟩

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