Probiotics-induced changes in gut microbial composition and its effects on cognitive performance after stress: exploratory analyses


Mirjam Bloemendaal, Joanna Szopinska-Tokov, Clara Belzer, David Boverhoff, Silvia Papalini, Franziska Michels, Saskia van Hemert, Alejandro Arias Vasquez, Esther Aarts




Translational Psychiatry


Stress negatively affects cognitive performance. Probiotics remediate somatic and behavioral stress responses, hypothetically by acting on the gut microbiota. Here, in exploratory analyses, we assessed gut microbial alterations after 28-days supplementation of multi-strain probiotics (EcologicBarrier consisting of Lactobacilli, Lactococci, and Bifidobacteria in healthy, female subjects (probiotics group n = 27, placebo group n = 29). In an identical pre-session and post-session, subjects performed a working memory task before and after an acute stress intervention. Global gut microbial beta diversity changed over time, but we were not able to detect differences between intervention groups. At the taxonomic level, Time by Intervention interactions were not significant after multiple comparison correction; the relative abundance of eight genera in the probiotics group was higher (uncorrected) relative to the placebo group: Butyricimonas, Parabacteroides, Alistipes, Christensenellaceae_R-7_group, Family_XIII_AD3011_group, Ruminococcaceae_UCG-003, Ruminococcaceae_UCG-005, and Ruminococcaceae_UCG-010. In a second analysis step, association analyses were done only within this selection of microbial genera, revealing the probiotics-induced change in genus Ruminococcaceae_UCG-003 was significantly associated with probiotics’ effect on stress-induced working memory changes (rspearman(27) = 0.565; pFDR = 0.014) in the probiotics group only and independent of potential confounders (i.e., age, BMI, and baseline dietary fiber intake). That is subjects with a higher increase in Ruminococcaceae_UCG-003 abundance after probiotics were also more protected from negative effects of stress on working memory after probiotic supplementation. The bacterial taxa showing an increase in relative abundance in the probiotics group are plant fiber degrading bacteria and produce short-chain fatty acids that are known for their beneficial effect on gut and brain health, e.g., maintaining intestinal-barrier and blood–brain-barrier integrity. This study shows that gut microbial alterations, modulated through probiotics use, are related to improved cognitive performance in acute stress circumstances.