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Gut Microbiome and Brain Functional Connectivity in Infants-A Preliminary Study Focusing on the Amygdala


Gao, Wei; Salzwedel, Andrew P.; Carlson, Alexander L.; Xia, Kai; Azcarate-Peril, Maria Andrea; Styner, Martin A.; Thompson, Amanda L.; Geng, Xiujuan; Goldman, Barbara Davis; & Gilmore, John H., et al. (2019). Gut Microbiome and Brain Functional Connectivity in Infants-A Preliminary Study Focusing on the Amygdala. Psychopharmacology, 236(5), 1641-1651. PMCID: PMC6599471


Recently, there has been a surge of interest in the possibility that microbial communities inhabiting the human gut could affect cognitive development and increase risk for mental illness via the "microbiome-gut-brain axis." Infancy likely represents a critical period for the establishment of these relationships, as it is the most dynamic stage of postnatal brain development and a key period in the maturation of the microbiome. Indeed, recent reports indicate that characteristics of the infant gut microbiome are associated with both temperament and cognitive performance. The neural circuits underlying these relationships have not yet been delineated. To address this gap, resting-state fMRI scans were acquired from 39 1-year-old human infants who had provided fecal samples for identification and relative quantification of bacterial taxa. Measures of alpha diversity were generated and tested for associations with measures of functional connectivity. Primary analyses focused on the amygdala as manipulation of the gut microbiota in animal models alters the structure and neurochemistry of this brain region. Secondary analyses explored functional connectivity of nine canonical resting-state functional networks. Alpha diversity was significantly associated with functional connectivity between the amygdala and thalamus and between the anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula. These regions play an important role in processing/responding to threat. Alpha diversity was also associated with functional connectivity between the supplementary motor area (SMA, representing the sensorimotor network) and the inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Importantly, SMA-IPL connectivity also related to cognitive outcomes at 2 years of age, suggesting a potential pathway linking gut microbiome diversity and cognitive outcomes during infancy. These results provide exciting new insights into the gut-brain axis during early human development and should stimulate further studies into whether microbiome-associated changes in brain circuitry influence later risk for psychopathology.


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Journal Article

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Gao, Wei
Salzwedel, Andrew P.
Carlson, Alexander L.
Xia, Kai
Azcarate-Peril, Maria Andrea
Styner, Martin A.
Thompson, Amanda L.
Geng, Xiujuan
Goldman, Barbara Davis
Gilmore, John H.
Knickmeyer, Rebecca C.