The Human Gut Microbiome: A Physiological System Approach

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
David Banks (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Robert Cannon

Abstract: 2014 University Libraries Undergraduate Research Award Winner---Perhaps some of the most complex disorders that have been observed in humans are those that concern emotion and processes of the human brain. The pathway between stimulus and response in cases of depression and anxiety is one that can take many directions depending on the patient in question; for this reason, psychiatry has provided interesting modes by which pathology can be studied outside of a one-to-one causal relationship. Given the expected lifespan of the average individual and the decades through which different disorders can emerge and withdraw given changes in environment or situation, determining the cause of such pathologies as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or even Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be daunting for any physician. How does one trace a pattern of feeling or behavior back to a causal event that may have occurred years before symptoms even emerged? In an age where Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) continues to gain relevance in light of a world at war, such questions must be asked. The lives of patients and their families depend on the ability of scientists to uncover pathways that can be manipulated to produce some treatment option or cure. After Dr. James Greenblatt was sought out by the parents of a young girl named Mary who had been diagnosed with a mixture of psychiatric disorders, including OCD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and treated with a range of psychotropic drugs that had remained largely unhelpful, his mode of thinking was able to change her quality of life (James 2013). He turned to her stomach as a possible root of the problem. One may not expect a trip to the psychiatrist to include a survey of questions aimed at ascertaining his or her digestive health; however, Dr. Greenblatt employed this strategy and, because of his conclusion that the symptoms that were manifesting in the emotive regions of Mary's brain might actually originate from an imbalance in her gut microflora composition, was able to prescribe a twice-daily dosage of probiotic that alleviated Mary's symptoms altogether. His assumption stemmed from an elevated level of metabolite HPHP A in her urine, a byproduct of the metabolic pathways of Clostridium species. Dr. Greenblatt's reasoning further developed from his ideas concerning the connection between the human gut and brain, an interface that had once been deemed a one-way street. By reversing this line of thinking and implementing a treatment plan that assumed a gut-to-brain avenue of communication, Dr. Greenblatt was able to treat Mary's symptoms, thereby continuing a thought that the gut microbiome plays more of a role in the human body than previously thought. While Dr. Greenblatt's treatment of Mary's condition constitutes an isolated case where an assumed role by the human gut microbiome existed, many clinical studies have also contributed to the belief behind this linkage.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Language: English
Date: 2013
biology, microbiology, human gut microbiome, physiology

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