NYMC Faculty Publications

Resilience or Susceptibility to Traumatic Stress: Potential Influence of the Microbiome

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Journal Title

Neurobiology of Stress

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Second Department


Third Department

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Exposure to traumatic stress is a major risk factor for development of neuropsychiatric disorders in a sub-population of individuals, while others remain resilient. The mechanisms and contributing factors differentiating between these phenotypes are still unclear. We hypothesize that inter-individual differences in the microbial composition and function contribute to host resilience or susceptibility to stress-induced psychopathologies. The current study aimed to characterize gut microbial community before and after exposure to traumatic stress in an animal model of PTSD. Sprague-Dawley male rats were randomly divided into unstressed controls and experimental group subjected to Single Prolonged Stress (SPS). After 14 days, behavioral analyses were performed using Open Field, Social Interaction and Elevated Plus Maze tests. Based on the anxiety measures, the SPS group was further subdivided into resilient (SPS-R) and susceptible (SPS-S) cohorts. The animals were sacrificed after the last behavioral test and cecum, colon, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex were dissected. Prior to SPS and immediately after Open Field test, fecal samples were collected from each rat for 16S V3-V4 ribosomal DNA sequencing, whereas urine samples were collected before SPS, 90 min into immobilization and on the day of sacrifice to measure epinephrine and norepinephrine levels. Analyses of the fecal microbiota revealed significant differences in microbial communities and in their predictive functionality among the groups before and after SPS stressors. Before SPS, the SPS-S subgroup harbored microbiota with an overall pro-inflammatory phenotype, whereas SPS-R subgroup had microbiota with an overall anti-inflammatory phenotype, with predictive functional pathways enriched in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and decreased in amino acid metabolism and neurodegenerative diseases. After SPS, the gut microbial communities and their predictive functionality shifted especially in SPS cohorts, with volatility at the genus level correlating inversely with Anxiety Index. In line with the alterations seen in the gut microbiota, the levels of cecal short chain fatty acids were also altered, with SPS-S subgroup having significantly lower levels of acetate, valerate and caproate. The levels of acetate inversely correlated with Anxiety Index. Interestingly, urinary epinephrine and norepinephrine levels were also higher in the SPS-S subgroup at baseline and during stress, indicative of an altered sympathoadrenal stress axis. Finally, shorter colon (marker of intestinal inflammation) and a lower claudin-5 protein expression (marker for increased blood brain barrier permeability) were observed in the SPS-S subgroup. Taken together, our results suggest microbiota is a potential factor in predisposing subjects either to stress susceptibility or resilience. Moreover, SPS triggered significant shifts in the gut microbiota, their metabolites and brain permeability. These findings could lead to new therapeutic directions for PTSD possibly through the controlled manipulation of gut microbiota. It may enable early identification of individuals more likely to develop prolonged anxiogenic symptoms following traumatic stress.