The microbiota-gut-brain axis: characterization of the gut microbiota in neurological disorders

Strati, Francesco (2017) The microbiota-gut-brain axis: characterization of the gut microbiota in neurological disorders. PhD thesis, University of Trento, Fondazione Edmund Mach.

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The human gut microbiota plays a crucial role in the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and its alteration can lead to gastrointestinal abnormalities and inflammation. Additionally, the gut microbiota modulates central nervous system (CNS) activities affecting several aspect of host physiology. Motivated by the increasing evidences of the role of the gut microbiota in the complex set of interactions connecting the gut and the CNS, known as gut-brain axis, in this Ph.D. thesis we asked whether the gastrointestinal abnormalities and inflammation commonly associated with neurological disorders such as Rett syndrome (RTT) and Autism could be related to alterations of the bacterial and fungal intestinal microbiota. First, since only few reports have explored the fungal component of the gut microbiota in health and disease, we characterized the gut mycobiota in a cohort of healthy individuals, in order to reduce the gap of knowledge concerning factors influencing the intestinal microbial communities. Next, we compared the gut microbiota of three cohorts of healthy, RTT and autistic subjects to investigate if these neurological disorders harbour alterations of the gut microbiota. Culture-based and metataxonomics analysis of the faecal fungal populations of healthy volunteers revealed that the gut mycobiota differs in function of individuals’ life stage in a gender-related fashion. Different fungal species were isolated showing phenotypic adaptation to the intestinal environment. High frequency of azoles resistance was also found, with potential clinical significance. It was further observed that autistic subjects are characterized by a reduced incidence of Bacteroidetes and that Collinsella, Corynebacterium, Dorea and Lactobacillus were the taxa predominating in the gut microbiota of autistic subjects. Constipation has been associated with different bacterial patterns in autistic and neurotypical subjects, with constipated autistic individuals characterized by higher levels of Escherichia/Shigella and Clostridium cluster XVIII than constipated neurotypical subjects. RTT is a neurological disorder caused by loss-of-function mutations of MeCP2 and it is commonly associated with gastrointestinal dysfunctions and constipation. We showed that RTT subjects harbour bacterial and fungal microbiota altered from those of healthy controls, with a reduced microbial richness and dominated by Bifidobacterium, different Clostridia and Candida. The alterations of the gut microbiota observed did not depend on the constipation status of RTT subjects while this microbiota produced altered SCFAs profiles potentially contributing to the constipation itself. Phenotypical and immunological characterizations of faecal fungal isolates from RTT subjects showed Candida parapsilosis as the most abundant species isolated in RTT, genetically unrelated to healthy controls’ isolates and with elevated resistance to azoles. Furthermore these isolates induced high levels of IL-10 suggesting increased tolerance and persistence within the host. Finally, the importance of multiple sequence alignment (MSA) accuracy in microbiome research was investigated comparing three implementations of the widely used NAST algorithm. By now, different implementations of NAST have been developed but no one tested the performances and the accuracy of the MSAs generated with these implementations. We showed that micca, a new bioinformatics pipeline for metataxonomics data improves the quality of NAST alignments by using a fast and memory efficient reimplementation of the NAST algorithm.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Biomolecular Sciences
PhD Cycle:29
Subjects:Area 05 - Scienze biologiche > BIO/11 BIOLOGIA MOLECOLARE
Area 05 - Scienze biologiche > BIO/18 GENETICA
Area 05 - Scienze biologiche > BIO/19 MICROBIOLOGIA GENERALE
Funders:Fondazione Edmund Mach; Unifarm spa
Repository Staff approval on:24 Feb 2017 12:13

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