Microorganisms can be found almost anywhere, including in and on the human body. The collection of microorganisms associated with a certain location is called a microbiota, with its collective genetic material referred to as the microbiome.
The largest population of microorganisms on the human body resides in the gastrointestinal tract; thus, it is not surprising that the most investigated human microbiome is the human gut microbiome. On average, the gut hosts microbes from more than 60 genera and contains more cells than the human body. The human gut microbiome has been shown to influence many aspects of host health, including more recently the brain.
Several modes of interaction between the gut and the brain have been discovered, including via the synthesis of metabolites and neurotransmitters, activation of the vagus nerve, and activation of the immune system. A growing body of work is implicating the microbiome in a variety of psychological processes and neuropsychiatric disorders. These include mood and anxiety disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, and even neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Moreover, it is probable that most psychotropic medications have an impact on the microbiome.
Here, an overview will be provided for the bidirectional role of the microbiome in brain health, age-associated cognitive decline, and neurological and psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, a primer on the common microbiological and bioinformatics techniques used to interrogate the microbiome will be provided. This review is meant to equip the reader with a primer to this exciting research area that is permeating all areas of biological psychiatry research.
APC Microbiome Ireland, University College Cork, Ireland (Mr Bastiaanssen, Dr Cowan, Dr Claesson, Dr Dinan, and Dr Cryan); Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University College Cork, Ireland (Mr Bastiaanssen and Dr Cryan); School of Microbiology, University College Cork, Ireland (Dr Claesson); Department of Psychiatry, University College Cork, Ireland (Dr Dinan).