If you were given a lens to see clearly, would you accept it?

Two papers, starting with a 2022 rodent study of maternal behaviors’ effects on offspring physiologies:

Early life adversity (ELA) is a major risk factor for development of pathology. Predictability of parental care may be a distinguishing feature of different forms of ELA.

We tested the hypothesis that changes in maternal behavior in mice would be contingent on the type of ELA experienced, directly comparing predictability of care in the limited bedding and nesting (LBN) and maternal separation (MS) paradigms. We then tested whether predictability of the ELA environment altered expression of corticotropin-releasing hormone (Crh), a sexually-dimorphic neuropeptide that regulates threat-related learning.

MS was associated with increased expression of Crh-related genes in males, but not females. LBN primarily increased expression of these genes in females, but not males.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289522000595 “Resource scarcity but not maternal separation provokes unpredictable maternal care sequences in mice and both upregulate Crh-associated gene expression in the amygdala”


I came across this first study by it citing a republished version of 2005 epigenetic research from McGill University:

“Early experience permanently alters behavior and physiology. A critical question concerns the mechanism of these environmental programming effects.

We propose that epigenomic changes serve as an intermediate process that imprints dynamic environmental experiences on the fixed genome resulting in stable alterations in phenotype. These findings demonstrate that structural modifications of DNA can be established through environmental programming and that, in spite of the inherent stability of this epigenomic marker, it is dynamic and potentially reversible.”

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.31887/DCNS.2005.7.2/mmeaney “Environmental programming of stress responses through DNA methylation: life at the interface between a dynamic environment and a fixed genome”


This post commemorates the five-year anniversary of Dr. Arthur Janov’s death. Its title is taken from my reaction to his comment on Beyond Belief: Symptoms of hopelessness. Search his blog for mentions of the second paper’s coauthors, Drs. Meaney and Szyf.

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All about walnuts’ effects

Five 2022 papers focusing on walnuts, starting with a comparison of eight tree nuts:

“The aim of the present study was to examine 8 different popular nuts – pecan, pine, hazelnuts, pistachio, almonds, cashew, walnuts, and macadamia. Total content of phenolic compounds in nuts ranged from 5.9 (pistachio) to 432.9 (walnuts) mg/100 g.

Walnuts had the highest content of polymeric procyanidins, which are of great interest as important compounds in nutrition and biological activity, as they exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardio- and neuroprotective action. Walnuts are good sources of fatty acids, especially omega-3 and omega-6.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590157522002164 “Nuts as functional foods: Variation of nutritional and phytochemical profiles and their in vitro bioactive properties”


A second study compared the same eight tree nuts plus Brazil nuts and peanuts:

“The highest total content of all analyzed flavonoids was determined in walnuts (114.861 µg/g) with epicatechin the most abundant, while the lowest was in almonds (1.717 µg/g). Epicatechin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and anti-diabetic properties. Epicatechin has beneficial effects on the nervous system, enhances muscle performance, and improves cardiac function.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/14/4326/htm “The Content of Phenolic Compounds and Mineral Elements in Edible Nuts”


Next, two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of human studies:

“We carried out a systematic review of cohort studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) investigating walnut consumption, compared with no or lower walnut consumption, including those with subjects from within the general population and those with existing health conditions, published from 2017 to 5 May 2021.

  • Evidence published since 2017 is consistent with previous research suggesting that walnut consumption improves lipid profiles and is associated with reduced CVD risk.
  • Evidence pointing to effects on blood pressure, inflammation, hemostatic markers, and glucose metabolism remains conflicting.
  • Evidence from human studies showing that walnut consumption may benefit cognitive health, which is needed to corroborate findings from animal studies, is now beginning to accumulate.”

https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/advance-article/doi/10.1093/nutrit/nuac040/6651942 “Walnut consumption and health outcomes with public health relevance – a systematic review of cohort studies and randomized controlled trials published from 2017 to present”


“We aimed to perform a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs to thoroughly assess data concerning effects of walnut intake on selected markers of inflammation and metabolic syndrome in mature adults. Our findings showed that:

  • Walnut-enriched diets significantly decreased TG, TC, and LDL-C concentrations, while HDL-C levels were not significantly affected.
  • No significant changes were noticed on anthropometric, cardiometabolic, and glycemic indices after higher walnut consumption.
  • Inflammatory biomarkers did not record statistically significant results.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/11/7/1412/htm “Walnut Intake Interventions Targeting Biomarkers of Metabolic Syndrome and Inflammation in Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials”


Finishing with a rodent study that gave subjects diabetes with a high-fat diet, then mixed two concentrations of walnut extract in with the treatment groups’ chow:

“This study was conducted to evaluate the protective effect of Gimcheon 1ho cultivar walnut (GC) on cerebral disorder by insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and inflammation in HFD-induced diabetic disorder mice. After HFD feed was supplied for 12 weeks, samples were orally ingested for 4 weeks to GC20 and GC50 groups (20 and 50 mg/kg of body weight, respectively).

  • Administration of GC improved mitochondrial membrane potential function, and suppressed oxidative stress in the brain.
  • GC inhibited hepatic and cerebral lipid peroxidation and the formation of serum AGEs, and increased serum antioxidant activity to improve HFD-induced oxidative stress.
  • The HFD group showed significant memory impairment in behavioral tests. On the other hand, administration of GC showed improvement in spatial learning and memory function.

walnut brain effects

Based on these physiological activities, GC showed protective effects against HFD-induced diabetic dysfunctions through complex and diverse pathways.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/16/5316/htm “Walnut Prevents Cognitive Impairment by Regulating the Synaptic and Mitochondrial Dysfunction via JNK Signaling and Apoptosis Pathway in High-Fat Diet-Induced C57BL/6 Mice”


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Non-patentable boron benefits

To follow up Is boron important to health? I’ll highlight a 2022 review of boron intake:

“Boron is essential for activity of several metabolic enzymes, hormones, and micronutrients. It is important for growth and maintenance of bone, reduction in inflammatory biomarkers, and increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes.

The average person’s daily diet contains 1.5 to 3 milligrams of boron. Boron intakes of 1–3 mg/day have been shown to improve bone and brain health in adults when compared to intakes of 0.25–0.50 mg/day.

One week of 10 mg/d boron supplementation resulted in a 20% reduction in inflammatory biomarkers TNF-α, as well as significant reductions (nearly 50%) in plasma concentrations of hs-CRP and IL-6. Calcium fructoborate, a naturally occurring, plant-based boron-carbohydrate complex, had beneficial effects on osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms. A double-blind study in middle-aged patients with primary OA found that all groups except the placebo group saw a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers after 15 days of food supplementation with calcium fructoborate.

Dietary boron intake significantly improves brain function and cognitive functioning in humans. Electroencephalograms showed that boron pharmacological intervention after boron deficiency improved functioning in older men and women, such as less drowsiness and mental alertness, better psychomotor skills (for example, motor speed and dexterity), and better cognitive processing (e.g., attention and short-term memory). Boron compounds can help with both impaired recognition and spatial memory problems.

We discussed the role of boron-based diet in memory, boron and microbiome relation, boron as anti-inflammatory agents, and boron in neurodegenerative diseases. Boron reagents will play a significant role to improve dysbiosis.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/11/3402/htm “The Role of Microbiome in Brain Development and Neurodegenerative Diseases”


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Non-CpG methylation

Three 2022 papers on methylation epigenetic modifiers, starting with a human study focused on mitochondrial DNA non-CpG methylation involving nucleobases other than guanine (arginine, cytosine, or thymine):

“We collected brain tissue in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex from deceased individuals without (n = 39) and with (n = 14) drug use, and used whole-genome bisulfite sequencing to cover cytosine sites in the mitochondrial genome. Epigenetic clocks in illicit drug users, especially in ketamine users, were accelerated in both brain regions by comparison with nonusers.

Unlike the predominance of CpG over non-CpG methylation in the nuclear genome, the average CpG and non-CpG methylation levels in the mitochondrial genome were almost equal. The utility of non-CpG methylation was further illustrated by the three indices constructed in this study with non-CpG sites having better distinction between brain areas, age groups, and the presence or absence of drug use than indices consisting of CpG sites only. Results of previous studies on the mitochondrial genome that were solely based on CpG sites should be interpreted cautiously.

The epigenetic clock made up of age-related cytosine sites in mtDNA of the control group was consistently replicated in these two brain regions. One possibility for the correlation is the cycle theory that involves mitochondrial activity, mitochondrial DNA methylation, and alpha-ketoglutarate.

As mitochondrial activity fades with aging, mitochondria gradually lose the ability to eliminate methylation on cytosines through alpha-ketoglutarate. Further investigation of the underlying mechanisms is warranted.

To our knowledge, this is the first report that ketamine might change the mitochondrial epigenetic clock in human brain tissues. We believe this is the first report to elucidate comprehensively the importance of mitochondrial DNA methylation in human brain.”

https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-022-01300-z “Mitochondrial DNA methylation profiling of the human prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens: correlations with aging and drug use”


A second rodent study focused on RNA methylation:

“We investigated the role of RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) in improved resilience against chronic restraint stress. A combination of molecular, behavioral, and in vivo recording data demonstrates exercise-mediated restoration of m6A in the mouse medial prefrontal cortex, whose activity is potentiated to exert anxiolytic effects. To provide molecular explanations, it is worth noting that epigenetic regulation, such as histone modification, microRNA, and DNA methylation all participate in mental and cognitive rehabilitation following exercise.

To generalize these rodent data to humans, we recruited a small group of patients with major depressive disorder with prominent anxiety disorders. Compared to age- and sex-matched healthy individuals, patients displayed decreased circulating methyl donor S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) levels. Serum SAM levels were found to be inversely correlated with the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, suggesting the potential value of SAM as a biomarker for depression or anxiety disorders.

Hepatic biosynthesis of methyl donors is necessary for exercise to improve brain RNA m6A to counteract environmental stress. The dependence on hepatic-brain axis suggests the ineffectiveness of exercise training on people with hepatic dysfunctions.

This novel liver-brain axis provides an explanation for brain network changes upon exercise training, and provides new insights into diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. Exercise-induced anxiolysis might be potentiated by further replenishment of RNA methylation donors, providing a strategy of exercise plus diet supplement in preventing anxiety disorders.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/advs.202105731 “Physical Exercise Prevented Stress-Induced Anxiety via Improving Brain RNA Methylation”


A third paper was a review of mitochondrial-to-nuclear epigenetic regulation. I’ll highlight one mitochondrial metabolite, alpha-ketoglutarate (α-KG):

“Apart from established roles in bioenergetics and biosynthesis, mitochondria are signaling organelles that communicate their fitness to the nucleus, triggering transcriptional programs to adapt homeostasis stress that is essential for organismal health and aging. Emerging studies revealed that mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication via altered levels of mitochondrial metabolites or stress signals causes various epigenetic changes, facilitating efforts to maintain homeostasis and affect aging.

Metabolites generated by the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the electron transport chain (ETC), or one-carbon cycle within mitochondria can act as substrates or cofactors to control epigenetic modification, especially histone acetylation and methylation and DNA methylation. α-KG produced in the TCA cycle serves as an essential cofactor for the chromatin-modifying Jumonji C (JmjC) domain-containing lysine demethylases (JMJDs) and ten-eleven translocation (TETs) DNA demethylases. Changes in α-KG levels are capable of driving nuclear gene expression by affecting DNA and histone methylation profiles.

1-s2.0-S0968000422000676-gr2_lrg

α-KG deficiency in progenitor stem cells increases with age. For example, the level of α-KG is reduced in follicle fluids of aged humans, and supplementation with α-KG preserves ovarian function in mice.

α-KG extends lifespan in Drosophila by activating AMPK signaling and inhibiting the mTOR pathway. Supplementing α-KG in the form of a calcium salt promoted a longer and healthier life associated with decreased levels of inflammatory cytokines in old mice.

A human study showed a nearly 8-year reversal in DNA methylation clock biological ages of 42 individuals taking an α-KG based formulation for 4–10 months. α-KG supplementation leads to both demethylation and hypermethylation of some CpG sites in the genome, suggesting that α-KG may have a broader effect on methylation-based aging, such as metabolic functions.

Outstanding questions:

  1. How is production of mitochondrial metabolites regulated both spatially and temporally to elicit epigenetic changes in response to mitochondrial dysfunction?
  2. What are specific epigenetic factors involved in mitochondrial-to-nuclear communications, and how do they cooperate with transcription factors in response to various external and internal stimuli?
  3. Do various mitochondrial metabolites act alone or in concert on the epigenome to regulate the aging process?
  4. Are some organs or tissues more at risk than others in maintaining mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication during aging?
  5. Can intervention of mitochondrial-to-nuclear communications mimic beneficial epigenetic changes to delay aging or alleviate age-onset diseases?”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0968000422000676 “Mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication in aging: an epigenetic perspective”


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Taurine week #7: Brain

Finishing a week’s worth of 2022 taurine research with two reviews of taurine’s brain effects:

“We provide a overview of brain taurine homeostasis, and review mechanisms by which taurine can afford neuroprotection in individuals with obesity and diabetes. Alterations to taurine homeostasis can impact a number of biological processes such as osmolarity control, calcium homeostasis, and inhibitory neurotransmission, and have been reported in both metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders.

Models of neurodegenerative disorders show reduced brain taurine concentrations. On the other hand, models of insulin-dependent diabetes, insulin resistance, and diet-induced obesity display taurine accumulation in the hippocampus. Given cytoprotective actions of taurine, such accumulation of taurine might constitute a compensatory mechanism that attempts to prevent neurodegeneration.

nutrients-14-01292-g003

Taurine release is mainly mediated by volume-regulated anion channels (VRAC) that are activated by hypo-osmotic conditions and electrical activity. They can be stimulated via glutamate metabotropic (mGluR) and ionotropic receptors (mainly NMDA and AMPA), adenosine A1 receptors (A1R), and metabotropic ATP receptors (P2Y).

Taurine mediates its neuromodulatory effects by binding to GABAA, GABAB, and glycine receptors. While taurine binding to GABAA and GABAB is weaker than to GABA, taurine is a rather potent ligand of the glycine receptor. Reuptake of taurine occurs via taurine transporter TauT.

Cytoprotective actions of taurine contribute to brain health improvements in subjects with obesity and diabetes through various mechanisms that improve neuronal function, such as:

  • Modulating inhibitory neurotransmission, which promotes an excitatory–inhibitory balance;
  • Stimulating antioxidant systems; and
  • Stabilizing mitochondria energy production and Ca2+ homeostasis.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/6/1292/htm “Taurine Supplementation as a Neuroprotective Strategy upon Brain Dysfunction in Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes”


A second review focused on taurine’s secondary bile acids produced by gut microbiota:

“Most neurodegenerative disorders are diseases of protein homeostasis, with misfolded aggregates accumulating. The neurodegenerative process is mediated by numerous metabolic pathways, most of which lead to apoptosis. Hydrophilic bile acids, particularly tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), have shown important anti-apoptotic and neuroprotective activities, with numerous experimental and clinical evidence suggesting their possible therapeutic use as disease-modifiers in neurodegenerative diseases.

Biliary acids may influence each of the following three mechanisms through which interactions within the brain-gut-microbiota axis take place: neurological, immunological, and neuroendocrine. These microbial metabolites can act as direct neurotransmitters or neuromodulators, serving as key modulators of the brain-gut interactions.

The gut microbial community, through their capacity to produce bile acid metabolites distinct from the liver, can be thought of as an endocrine organ with potential to alter host physiology, perhaps to their own favour. Hydrophilic bile acids, currently regarded as important hormones, exert modulatory effects on gut microbiota composition to produce secondary bile acids which seem to bind a number of receptors with a higher affinity than primary biliary acids, expressed on many different cells.

40035_2022_307_Fig1_HTML

TUDCA regulates expression of genes involved in cell cycle regulation and apoptotic pathways, promoting neuronal survival. TUDCA:

  • Improves protein folding capacity through its chaperoning activity, in turn reducing protein aggregation and deposition;
  • Reduces reactive oxygen species production, leading to protection against mitochondrial dysfunction;
  • Ameliorates endoplasmic reticulum stress; and
  • Inhibits expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, exerting an anti-neuroinflammatory effect.

Although Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and cerebral ischemia have different disease progressions, they share similar pathways which can be targeted by TUDCA. This makes this bile acid a potentially strong therapeutic option to be tested in human diseases. Clinical evidence collected so far has reported comprehensive data on ALS only.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9166453/ “Tauroursodeoxycholic acid: a potential therapeutic tool in neurodegenerative diseases”

The misnomer of nonessential amino acids

Three papers, starting with a 2022 review:

“Ideal diets must provide all physiologically and nutritionally essential amino acids (AAs).

Proposed optimal ratios and amounts of true digestible AAs in diets during different phases of growth and production. Because dynamic requirements of animals for dietary AAs are influenced by a plethora of factors, data below as well as the literature serve only as references to guide feeding practices and nutritional research.

10.1177_15353702221082658-table5

Nutritionists should move beyond the ‘ideal protein’ concept to consider optimum ratios and amounts of all proteinogenic AAs in diets for mammals, birds, and aquatic animals, and, in the case of carnivores, also taurine. This will help formulate effectively low-protein diets for livestock (including swine and high-producing dairy cattle), poultry, fish, and crustaceans, as well as zoo and companion animals.”

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/15353702221082658 “The ‘ideal protein’ concept is not ideal in animal nutrition”


A second 2022 review focused on serine:

“The main dietary source of L-serine is protein, in which L-serine content ranges between 2 and 5%. At the daily intake of ~1 g protein per kg of body weight, the amount of serine obtained from food ranges between 1.4 and 3.5 g (13.2–33.0 mmol) per day in an adult.

Mechanisms of potential benefits of supplementing L-serine include increased synthesis of sphingolipids, decreased synthesis of 1-deoxysphingolipids, decrease in homocysteine levels, and increased synthesis of cysteine and its metabolites, including glutathione. L-serine supplementation has been suggested as a rational therapeutic approach in several disorders, particularly primary disorders of L-serine synthesis, neurodegenerative disorders, and diabetic neuropathy.

Unfortunately, the number of clinical studies evaluating dietary supplementation of L-serine as a possible therapy is small. Studies examining therapeutic effects of L-serine in CNS injury and chronic renal diseases, in which it is supposed that L-serine weakens glutamate neurotoxicity and lowers homocysteine levels, respectively, are missing.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/9/1987/htm “Serine Metabolism in Health and Disease and as a Conditionally Essential Amino Acid”


A 2021 review subject was D-serine, L-serine’s D-isoform:

“The N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptor (NMDAR) and its co-agonist D-serine are currently of great interest as potential important contributors to cognitive function in normal aging and dementia. D-serine is necessary for activation of NMDAR and in maintenance of long-term potentiation, and is involved in brain development, neuronal connectivity, synaptic plasticity, and regulation of learning and memory.

The source of D-amino acids in mammals was historically attributed to diet or intestinal bacteria until racemization of L-serine by serine racemase was identified as the endogenous source of D-serine. The enzyme responsible for catabolism (breakdown) of D-serine is D-amino acid oxidase; this enzyme is most abundant in cerebellum and brainstem, areas with low levels of D-serine.

Activation of the NMDAR co-agonist-binding site by D-serine and glycine is mandatory for induction of synaptic plasticity. D-serine acts primarily at synaptic NMDARs whereas glycine acts primarily at extrasynaptic NMDARs.

In normal aging there is decreased expression of serine racemase and decreased levels of D-serine and down-regulation of NMDARs, resulting in impaired synaptic plasticity and deficits in learning and memory. In contrast, in AD there appears to be activation of serine racemase, increased levels of D-serine and overstimulation of NMDARs, resulting in cytotoxicity, synaptic deficits, and dementia.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.754032/full “An Overview of the Involvement of D-Serine in Cognitive Impairment in Normal Aging and Dementia”


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State-dependent memory

This 2021 review by two coauthors of What can cause memories that are accessible only when returning to the original brain state? provided evidence for alternative interpretations of memory experiments:

“Memory consolidation hypotheses postulate a long series of various and time consuming elaborate processes that come to protect memory from disruption after various periods of time. For more than fifty years, consolidation hypotheses led to the idea that:

  1. Memories are fragile and can easily be disrupted; and
  2. Memories require several hours to be encoded (Cellular Consolidation), and extensive periods of time (days to weeks and even months and years), to be definitely stabilized (Systems Consolidation).

Although these views rely on well substantiated findings, their interpretation can be called into question.

An alternative position is that amnesia reflects retrieval difficulties due to contextual changes. This simple explanation is able to account for most, if not all, results obtained in consolidation studies.

memory state dependency

Systems Consolidation can be explained in terms of a form of state-dependency.

Recent memory remains detailed, context-specific (in animals), and vivid (in humans) and very susceptible to contextual changes. With the passage of time, memories become less precise, and retention performance less and less affected by contextual changes.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0149763421005510 “Revisiting systems consolidation and the concept of consolidation” (not freely available)


I came across this review while trying to understand why a 2022 rodent study felt wrong. That study followed the standard memory paradigm, and I appreciate its lead author providing a copy since it wasn’t otherwise available.

But those researchers boxed themselves in with consolidation explanations for findings. They used drugs to change subjects’ memories’ contexts between training and testing. They didn’t see that tested memories were dependent on subjects’ initial brain states.

This review cited a paper abstracted in Resiliency in stress responses, namely Neurobiological mechanisms of state-dependent learning.


Crab for lunch

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Gut microbiota knowledge through 2021

I’ll curate this 2022 review of what’s known and unknown about our trillions of gut microbiota through its topic headings:

“Most microbial taxa and species of the human microbiome are still unknown. Without revealing the identity of these microbes as a first step, we cannot appreciate their role in human health and diseases.

A. Understanding the Microbiome Composition and Factors That Shape Its Diversity
Effect of Diet Composition on the Microbiome Diversity

  • Macronutrients and Microbiome Diversity
  • Nutrient and Mineral Supplements and Microbiome Diversity

Stress

Drugs

Race and Host Genetics

Aging

Lifestyle

  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Urbanization

B. Understanding the Microbiome Function and Its Association With Onset and Progression of Many Diseases

Microbiome Association With Inflammatory and Metabolic Disorders

  • Chronic Inflammation in GIT and Beyond
  • Development of Malignant Tumors
  • Obesity
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Respiratory Diseases

Microbiome Role in Psychiatric, Behavioral, and Emotional Disorders

C. Understanding the Microbiome Function as Mediated by Secreted Molecules

D. Conclusion and Future Directions – A pioneering study aimed to computationally predict functions of microbes on earth estimates the presence of 35.5 million functions in bacteria of which only 0.02% are known. Our knowledge of its functions and how they mediate health and diseases is preliminary.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2022.825338 “Recent Advances in Understanding the Structure and Function of the Human Microbiome”


I took another test last month at the 14-month point of treating my gut microbiota better. Compared with the 7-month top level measurements, what stood out was an increase in relative abundance from 1% to 7% in the Verrucomicrophia phylum that pretty much exclusively comprises species Akkermansia muciniphilia in humans:

top 5 phylum 2-2022

This review termed Akkermansia muciniphilia relative increases as beneficial. Go with the Alzheimer’s Disease evidence didn’t.

Preventing human infections with dietary fibers inferred that insufficient dietary fiber may disproportionately increase abundance of this species. But I already eat much more fiber than our human ancestors’ estimated 100 grams of fiber every day, so lack of fiber definitely didn’t cause this relative increase.

Resistant starch therapy observed:

“Relative abundances of smaller keystone communities (e.g. primary degraders) may increase, but appear to decrease simply because cross-feeders increase in relative abundance to a greater extent.”

I’ll wait for further evidence while taking responsibility for my own one precious life.

Didn’t agree with this review’s statements regarding microbial associations with fear. These reviewers framed such associations as if gut microbiota in the present had stronger influences on an individual’s fear responses than did any of the individual’s earlier experiences. No way.

I came across this review by it citing The microbiome: An emerging key player in aging and longevity, which was Reference 25 of Dr. Paul Clayton’s blog post What are You Thinking?

Also didn’t agree with some of the doctor’s post:

  • Heterochronic parabiosis of young and old animals is wildly different from fecal transfer. Can’t really compare them to any level of detail.
  • Using a rodent young-to-old fecal microbiota transplant study to imply the same effects would happen in humans? Humans don’t live in controlled environments, so why would a young human individual’s gut microbiota necessarily have healthier effects than an old individual’s?
  • Another example was the penultimate paragraph: “By adding a mix of prebiotic fibers to your diet and maintaining a more youthful and less inflammatory microbiome you will have less inflammation, less endotoxaemia and less inflammageing. You will therefore live healthier and longer.” I’m okay with the first sentence. Equivalating the first sentence to both healthspan and lifespan increases in the second sentence wasn’t supported by any of the 45 cited references.

Eat broccoli sprouts for depression, Part 2

Here are three papers that cited last year’s Part 1. First is a 2021 rodent study investigating a microRNA’s pro-depressive effects:

“Depressive rat models were established via chronic unpredicted mild stress (CUMS) treatment. Cognitive function of rats was assessed by a series of behavioral tests.

Nrf2 CUMS

Nrf2 was weakly expressed in CUMS-treated rats, whereas Nrf2 upregulation alleviated cognitive dysfunction and brain inflammatory injury.

Nrf2 inhibited miR-17-5p expression via binding to the miR-17-5p promoter. miR-17-5p was also found to limit wolfram syndrome 1 (Wfs1) transcription.

We found that Nrf2 inhibited miR-17-5p expression and promoted Wfs1 transcription, thereby alleviating cognitive dysfunction and inflammatory injury in rats with depression-like behaviors. We didn’t investigate the role of Nrf2 in other depression models (chronic social stress model and chronic restraint stress model) and important brain regions other than hippocampus, such as prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. Accordingly, other depression models and brain regions need to be designed and explored to further validate the role of Nrf2 in depression in future studies.”

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10753-021-01554-4 “Nrf2 Alleviates Cognitive Dysfunction and Brain Inflammatory Injury via Mediating Wfs1 in Rats with Depression‑Like Behaviors” (not freely available)

This study demonstrated that activating the Nrf2 pathway inhibited brain inflammation, cognitive dysfunction, and depression. Would modulating one microRNA and one gene in vivo without Nrf2 activation achieve similar results?


A 2021 review focused on the immune system’s role in depression:

“Major depressive disorder is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses. The mean age of patients with this disorder is 30.4 years, and the prevalence is twice higher in women than in men.

Activation of inflammatory pathways in the brain is considered to be an important producer of excitotoxicity and oxidative stress inducer that contributes to neuronal damage seen in the disorder. This activation is mainly due to pro-inflammatory cytokines activating the tryptophan-kynurenine (KP) pathway in microglial cells and astrocytes.

Elevated levels of cortisol exert an inhibitory feedback mechanism on its receptors in the hippocampus and hypothalamus, stopping stimulation of these structures to restore balance. When this balance is disrupted, hypercortisolemia directly stimulates extrahepatic enzyme 2,3-indolimine dioxygenase (IDO) located in various tissues (intestine, placenta, liver, and brain) and immune system macrophages and dendritic cells.

Elevation of IDO activities causes metabolism of 99% of available tryptophan in the KP pathway, substantially reducing serotonin synthesis, and producing reactive oxygen species and nitrogen radicals. The excitotoxicity generated produces tissue lesions, and activates the inflammatory response.”

https://academic.oup.com/ijnp/article/25/1/46/6415265 “Inflammatory Process and Immune System in Major Depressive Disorder”

This review highlighted that stress via cortisol and IDO may affect the brain and other parts of the body.


A 2022 review elaborated on Part 1’s findings of MeCP2 as a BDNF inhibitor:

“Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is a transcriptional regulator that is highly abundant in the brain. It binds to methylated genomic DNA to regulate a range of physiological functions implicated in neuronal development and adult synaptic plasticity.

Ability to cope with stressors relies upon activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. MeCP2 has been shown to contribute to early life stress-dependent epigenetic programming of genes that enhance HPA-axis activity.

We describe known functions of MeCP2 as an epigenetic regulator, and provide evidence for its role in modulating synaptic plasticity via transcriptional regulation of BDNF or other proteins involved in synaptogenesis and synaptic strength like reelin. We conclude that MeCP2 is a promising target for development of novel, more efficacious therapeutics for treatment of stress-related disorders such as depression.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/11/4/748/htm “The Role of MeCP2 in Regulating Synaptic Plasticity in the Context of Stress and Depression”


Osprey lunch

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All about vasopressin

This 2021 review subject was vasopressin:

“Vasopressin is a ubiquitous molecule playing an important role in a wide range of physiological processes, thereby implicated in pathomechanisms of many disorders. The most striking is its central effect in stress-axis regulation, as well as regulating many aspects of our behavior.

Arginine-vasopressin (AVP) is a nonapeptide that is synthesized mainly in the supraoptic, paraventricular (PVN), and suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. AVP cell groups of hypothalamus and midbrain were found to be glutamatergic, whereas those in regions derived from cerebral nuclei were mainly GABAergic.

In the PVN, AVP can be found together with corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), the main hypothalamic regulator of the HPA axis. The AVPergic system participates in regulation of several physiological processes, from stress hormone release through memory formation, thermo- and pain regulation, to social behavior.

vasopressin stress axis

AVP determines behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and participates in development of social interactions, aggression, reproduction, parental behavior, and belonging. Alterations in AVPergic tone may be implicated in pathology of stress-related disorders (anxiety and depression), Alzheimer’s, posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as schizophrenia.

An increasing body of evidence confirms epigenetic contribution to changes in AVP or AVP receptor mRNA level, not only during the early perinatal period, but also in adulthood:

  • DNA methylation is more targeted on a single gene; and it is better characterized in relation to AVP;
  • Some hint for bidirectional interaction with histone acetylation was also described; and
  • miRNAs are implicated in the hormonal, peripheral role of AVP, and less is known about their interaction regarding behavioral alteration.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/22/17/9415/htm “Epigenetic Modulation of Vasopressin Expression in Health and Disease”


Find your way, regardless of what the herd does.

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Blood pressure and pain

A trio of papers, with the second and third citing a 2013 review:

“The relationship between pain and hypertension is potentially of great pathophysiological and clinical interest, but is poorly understood. Perception of acute pain initially plays an adaptive role, which results in prevention of tissue damage.

The consequence of ascending nociception is recruitment of segmental spinal reflexes through physiological neuronal connections:

  • In proportion to magnitude and duration of the stimulus, these spinal reflexes cause sympathetic nervous system activation, which increases peripheral resistances, heart rate, and stroke volume; and
  • The response also involves the neuroendocrine system, in particular, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, in addition to further activation of the sympathetic system by adrenal glands.

Persistent pain tends to become chronic and to increase BP values. After a long time, dysfunction of release of endogenous opioids results in a reduction of their analgesic effect. A vicious circle is established, where further pain leads to a reduction in pain tolerance, associated with decreased analgesia mediated by baroreceptors, in a kind of process of exhaustion.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jch.12145 “The Relationship Between Blood Pressure and Pain”


A second paper was a 2021 human experimental pain study:

“We investigated the effectiveness of physiological signals for automatic pain intensity estimation that can either substitute for, or complement patients’ self-reported information. Results indicate that for both subject-independent and subject-dependent scenarios, electrodermal activity (EDA) – which is also referred to as skin conductance (SC) or galvanic skin response – was the best signal for pain intensity estimation.

EDA gave mean absolute error (MAE) = 0.93 using only 3 time-series features:

  1. Time intervals between successive extreme events above the mean;
  2. Time intervals between successive extreme events below the mean; and
  3. Exponential fit to successive distances in 2-dimensional embedding space.

Although we obtained good results using 22 EDA features, we further explored to see if we could reach similar or better results with fewer EDA features. This plot highlights that by considering only the top 3 features, we obtained the same level of performance given by all 22 features together.

journal.pone.0254108.g002

This is the first study that achieved less than 1-unit error for continuous pain intensity estimation using only one physiological sensor’s 3 time-series feature, and a Support Vector Regression machine learning model. Considering that this is an encouraging result, we can estimate objective pain using only the EDA sensor, which needs neither a complex setup nor a complex computationally intense machine learning algorithm.

This study paves the way for developing a smart pain measurement wearable device that can change the quality of pain management significantly.”

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254108 “Exploration of physiological sensors, features, and machine learning models for pain intensity estimation”


A third paper was a 2020 human rotator cuff surgery study:

“Results of our study demonstrated that:

  • Pain during the early postoperative period;
  • Time until occurrence of a retear; and
  • Existence of hypertension

were correlated with severity of pain in patients with a retorn rotator cuff.

Pain was selected as the sole outcome parameter of this study because:

  • Pain is an important factor that compels patients to seek treatment for rotator cuff tears, along with functional disability;
  • Pain and subjective functional deficits are important factors that influence a surgeon’s decision to continue with treatment in cases of retearing; and
  • Analyzing pain severity can be a good way to determine patients’ overall satisfaction after rotator cuff repair.

However, pain is not always correlated with disease severity or tear size and vice versa. A lack of pain does not necessarily depend on integrity of the repaired tendon or constitute a good prognosis. In fact, patients with partial-thickness rotator cuff tears showed more pain than did those with full-thickness tears.

Existence of hypertension had a proportional relationship with pain at 12 months postoperatively in patients with retears. This can be interpreted as a suggestion that pain in patients with retears is not acute, but rather chronic, and may be connected to pain in the early postoperative period at 3 months. However, results of this study cannot explain benefits of controlling hypertension in alleviating pain in patients with retears.”

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2325967120947414 “Factors Related to Pain in Patients With Retorn Rotator Cuffs: Early Postoperative Pain Predicts Pain at 12 Months Postoperatively”


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PTSD susceptibility?

This 2021 rodent study investigated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) susceptibility:

“PTSD is an incapacitating trauma-related disorder, with no reliable therapy. We show distinct DNA methylation profiles of PTSD susceptibility in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Data analysis revealed overall hypomethylation of different genomic CpG sites in susceptible animals.

Is it possible to treat PTSD by targeting epigenetic processes? Such an approach might reverse genomic underpinning of PTSD and serve as a cure.

To test plausibility of such an approach, a reliable animal (rat) model with high construct validity is needed. Previously, we reported one such model, which uses predator-associated trauma, and cue reminders to evoke recurring trauma. This simulates clinical PTSD symptoms including re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal.

Individual PTSD-like (susceptible) behavior is analyzed, enabling identification of susceptible animals separately from those that are non-PTSD-like (resilient). This model captures salient features of this disorder in humans, in which only a fraction of trauma victims develop PTSD, while others are resilient.

experimental model

Sprague–Dawley rats were exposed to trauma and to three subsequent trauma-associated reminders. Freezing behavior was measured under conditions of:

  • Exploration;
  • Social interaction (with a companion); and
  • Hyperarousal.

Controls were exposed to identical conditions except for the traumatic event.

PTSD-like behavior of each animal was compared with baseline and with the population. Two unambiguous sub-populations were identified, resilient and susceptible.

After exposure to trauma and its reminders, susceptible animals showed an increase from baseline in freezing behavior, and over time in all three behavioral tests, as opposed to resilient and control groups.

DMRs

Differentially methylated sites in susceptible and resilient animals compared to control group.

Although we focused in this study on DNA methylation changes that associate with susceptibility, we also report unique changes in DNA methylation that occur in resilient animals. Inhibition of critical genes that are downregulated in susceptible animals convert resilient animals to become susceptible.”

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353192082_Reduction_of_DNMT3a_and_RORA_in_the_nucleus_accumbens_plays_a_causal_role_in_post-traumatic_stress_disorder-like_behavior_reversal_by_combinatorial_epigenetic_therapy “Reduction of DNMT3a and RORA in the nucleus accumbens plays a causal role in post-traumatic stress disorder-like behavior: reversal by combinatorial epigenetic therapy” (registration required)


Rodents with the same genetics and environment displayed individual differences in their responses to traumatic events. Researchers, provide evidence for that before venturing elsewhere.

Not sure why it took 3+ years for this study received in November 2017 to finally be published in July 2021. Sites other than https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01178-y are more transparent about their peer review and publication processes.

No causes for PTSD susceptibility were investigated. PTSD effects and symptoms aren’t causes, notwithstanding this study’s finding that:

“Our results support a causal role for the NAc as a critical brain region for expression of PTSD-like behaviors, and a role for programming genes by DNA methylation in the NAc in development of PTSD-like behaviors.”

Can’t say that I understand more about causes for PTSD susceptibility now than before I read this study. Researchers attaching significance to gene functional groups seemed like hypothesis-seeking efforts to overcome limited findings.

Will this study’s combination of a methyl donor with a Vitamin A metabolite address PTSD causes in humans? If it only temporarily alleviates symptoms, what lasting value will it have?


Several brain and body areas that store traumatic memories other than the nucleus accumbens were mentioned in The role of recall neurons in traumatic memories. A wide range of epigenetic memory storage vehicles is one reason why effective human therapies need to address each individual, their whole body, and their entire history.

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Osprey breakfast

Gut and brain health

This 2021 human review subject was interactions of gut health and disease with brain health and disease:

“Actions of microbial metabolites are key for appropriate gut-brain communication in humans. Among these metabolites, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), tryptophan, and bile acid metabolites / pathways show strong preclinical evidence for involvement in various aspects of brain function and behaviour.

Dietary fibres, proteins, and fats ingested by the host contain components which are metabolized by microbiota. SCFAs are produced from fermentation of fibres, and tryptophan-kynurenine (TRP-KYN) metabolites from dietary proteins. Primary bile acids derived from liver metabolism aid in lipid digestion, but can be deconjugated and bio-transformed into secondary bile acids.

1-s2.0-S0149763421001032-gr1

One of the greatest challenges with human microbiota studies is making inferences about composition of colonic microbiota from faeces. There are known differences between faecal and caecal microbiota composition in humans along with spatial variation across the gastrointestinal tract.

It is difficult to interpret microbiome-host associations without identifying the driving influence in such an interaction. Large cohort studies may require thousands of participants on order to reach 20 % explanatory power for a certain host-trait with specific microbiota-associated metrics (Shannon diversity, relative microbial abundance). Collection of metadata is important to allow for a better comparison between studies, and to identify differentially abundant microbes arising from confounding variables.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763421001032 “Mining Microbes for Mental Health: Determining the Role of Microbial Metabolic Pathways in Human Brain Health and Disease”


Don’t understand why these researchers handcuffed themselves by only using PubMed searches. For example, two papers were cited for:

“Conjugated and unconjugated bile acids, as well as taurine or glycine alone, are potential neuroactive ligands in humans.”

Compare scientific coverage of PubMed with Scopus:

  • 2017 paper: PubMed citations 39; Scopus citations 69.
  • 2019 paper: PubMed citations 69; Scopus citations 102.

Large numbers of papers intentionally missing from PubMed probably influenced this review’s findings, such as:

  1. “There are too few fibromyalgia and migraine microbiome-related studies to make definitive conclusions. However, one fibromyalgia study found altered microbial species associated with SCFA and tryptophan metabolism, as well as changes in serum levels of SCFAs. Similarly, the sole migraine-microbiota study reported an increased abundance of the kynurenine synthesis GBM (gut-brain module).
  2. Due to heterogeneity of stroke and vascular disease conditions, it is difficult to make substantial comparisons between studies. There is convincing evidence for involvement of specific microbial genera / species and a neurovascular condition in humans. However, taxa were linked to LPS biosynthesis rather than SCFA production.
  3. Several studies suggest lasting microbial changes in response to prenatal or postnatal stress, though these do not provide evidence for involvement of SCFA, tryptophan, or bile-acid modifying bacteria. Similar to stress, there are very few studies assessing impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on microbiota.”

These researchers took on a difficult task. Their study design could have been better.


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Wildlife

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Take acetyl-L-carnitine for early-life trauma

This 2021 rodent study traumatized female mice during their last 20% of pregnancy, with effects that included:

  • Prenatally stressed pups raised by stressed mothers had normal cognitive function, but depressive-like behavior and social impairment;
  • Prenatally stressed pups raised by control mothers did not reverse behavioral deficits; and
  • Control pups raised by stressed mothers displayed prenatally stressed pups’ behavioral phenotypes.

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) protected against and reversed depressive-like behavior induced by prenatal trauma:

alcar regime

ALCAR was supplemented in drinking water of s → S mice either from weaning to adulthood (3–8 weeks), or for one week in adulthood (7–8 weeks). ALCAR supplementation from weaning rendered s → S mice resistant to developing depressive-like behavior.

ALCAR supplementation for 1 week during adulthood rescued depressive-like behavior. One week after ALCAR cessation, however, the anti-depressant effect of ALCAR was diminished.

Intergenerational trauma induces social deficits and depressive-like behavior through divergent and convergent mechanisms of both in utero and early-life parenting environments:

  • We establish 2-HG [2-hydroxyglutaric acid, a hypoxia and mitochondrial dysfunction marker, and an epigenetic modifier] as an early predictive biomarker for trauma-induced behavioral deficits; and
  • Demonstrate that early pharmacological correction of mitochondria metabolism dysfunction by ALCAR can permanently reverse behavioral deficits.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-02255-2 “Intergenerational trauma transmission is associated with brain metabotranscriptome remodeling and mitochondrial dysfunction”


Previously curated studies cited were:

This study had an effusive endorsement of acetyl-L-carnitine in its Discussion section, ending with:

“This has the potential to change lives of millions of people who suffer from major depression or have risk of developing this disabling disorder, particularly those in which depression arose from prenatal traumatic stress.”

I take a gram daily. Don’t know about prenatal trauma, but I’m certain what happened during my early childhood.

I asked both these researchers and those of Reference 70 for their estimates of a human equivalent to “0.3% ALCAR in drinking water.” Will update with their replies.


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The brainstem’s parabrachial nucleus

I often reread blog posts that you read. Yesterday, a reader clicked Treat your gut microbiota as one of your organs. On rereading, I saw that I didn’t properly reference the parabrachial nucleus as being part of the brainstem.

A “parabrachial nucleus” search led me to a discussion of two 2020 rodent studies:

“Nociceptive signals entering the brain via the spinothalamic pathway allow us to detect location and intensity of a painful sensation. But, at least as importantly, nociceptive inputs also reach other brain regions that give pain its emotional texture.

Key to that circuitry is the parabrachial nucleus (PBN), a tiny cluster of cells in the brainstem associated with homeostatic regulation of things like temperature and food intake, response to aversive stimuli, and perceptions of many kinds. Two new papers advance understanding of PBN’s role in pain:

  1. The PBN receives inhibitory inputs from GABAergic neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). Those inputs are diminished in chronic pain conditions, leading to PBN hyperactivity and increased pain perception. Disinhibition of the amygdalo-parabrachial pathway may be crucial to establishing chronic pain.
  2. The dorsal PBN is the first receiver of spinal nociceptive input. It transmits certain inputs to the ventral medial hypothalamus and lateral periaqueductal gray. Certain of its neurons transmit noxious inputs to the external lateral PBN, which then transmits those inputs to the CeA and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. This is quite new, that nociceptive information the CeA receives has already been processed by the PBN. They measured many pain-related behaviors: place aversion, avoidance, and escape. That allowed them to dissect different pain-related behaviors in relation to distinct subnuclei of the PBN.

1Inline2

Chronic pain is manufactured by the brain. It’s not a one-way process driven by something coming up from the periphery. The brain is actively constructing a chronic pain state in part by this recurring circuit.

A role of the PBN is to sound an alarm when an organism is in danger, but its roles go further. It is a key homeostatic center, weighing short-term versus long-term survival. If you’re warm, fed, and comfortable, organisms can address long-term directives like procreation. When you’re unsafe, though, you need to put those things off and deal with the emergency.”

https://www.painresearchforum.org/news/147704-parabrachial-nucleus-takes-pain-limelight “The Parabrachial Nucleus Takes the Pain Limelight”

https://www.jneurosci.org/content/40/17/3424 “An Amygdalo-Parabrachial Pathway Regulates Pain Perception and Chronic Pain”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S089662732030221X “Divergent Neural Pathways Emanating from the Lateral Parabrachial Nucleus Mediate Distinct Components of the Pain Response”


Two dozen papers have since cited these two studies. One that caught my eye was a 2021 rodent study:

“Migraines cause significant disability and contribute heavily to healthcare costs. Irritation of the meninges’ outermost layer (the dura mater), and trigeminal ganglion activation contribute to migraine initiation.

Dura manipulation in humans during neurosurgery is often painful, and dura irritation is considered an initiating factor in migraine. In rodents, dura irritation models migraine-like symptoms.

Maladaptive changes in central pain-processing regions are also important in maintaining pain. The parabrachial complex (PB) receives diverse sensory information, including a direct input from the trigeminal ganglion.

PB-projecting trigeminal ganglion neurons project also to the dura. These neurons represent a direct pathway between the dura, a structure implicated in migraine, and PB, a key node in chronic pain and aversion.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452073X21000015 “Parabrachial complex processes dura inputs through a direct trigeminal ganglion-to-parabrachial connection”


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