The role of microbiota and inflammation in self-judgement and empathy: implications for understanding the brain-gut-microbiome axis in depression

Heym, N. ORCID: 0000-0003-2414-8854, Heasman, B.C., Hunter, K. ORCID: 0000-0002-0743-9724, Blanco, S.R., Wang, G.Y., Siegert, R., Cleare, A., Gibson, G.R., Kumari, V. and Sumich, A.L. ORCID: 0000-0003-4333-8442, 2019. The role of microbiota and inflammation in self-judgement and empathy: implications for understanding the brain-gut-microbiome axis in depression. Psychopharmacology, 236 (5), pp. 1459-1470. ISSN 0033-3158

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Abstract

Rationale: The gut-brain axis includes bidirectional communication between intestinal microbiota and the central nervous system. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus spp. have been implicated in psychological health, such as depression, through various pathways (e.g. inflammation). Research needs a better understanding of direct and indirect effects through examination of psychological factors that make people susceptible to, or offer protection against, depression.

Objective: This study investigated the relationships between gut microbiota, inflammation and psychological risk and resilience factors for depression.

Methods: Forty participants (13 m/27 f) recruited from the general population completed self-report questionnaires for depression, self-judgement, over-identification and affective and cognitive empathy. Faecal and blood samples were taken to assay microbiota (Bifidobacterium; Lactobacillus spp.) and pro-inflammatory molecules (C-reactive protein, CRP and interleukin-6, IL-6), respectively.

Results: Hierarchical regression analyses (controlling for sex, age and the shared variance of risk and resilience factors) showed that (i) cognitive depression was significantly predicted by negative self-judgement and reduced cognitive empathy; (ii) abundance of Lactobacillus spp. was directly related to positive self-judgement but only indirectly to cognitive depression and lower affective empathy (both through self-judgement); and (iii) CRP was the strongest predictor of reduced cognitive empathy, with suppression effects seen for age (negative) and IL-6 (positive) after controlling for CRP.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that lactobacilli and inflammation may be differentially associated with mood disorder via brain mechanisms underpinning self-judgement and cognitive empathy, respectively. Further trials investigating interventions to increase Lactobacillus spp. in depression would benefit from direct measures of self-judgement and affective empathic distress, whilst those that aim to reduce inflammation should investigate cognitive empathy.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Psychopharmacology
Creators: Heym, N., Heasman, B.C., Hunter, K., Blanco, S.R., Wang, G.Y., Siegert, R., Cleare, A., Gibson, G.R., Kumari, V. and Sumich, A.L.
Publisher: Springer
Date: May 2019
Volume: 236
Number: 5
ISSN: 0033-3158
Identifiers:
NumberType
10.1007/s00213-019-05230-2DOI
5230Publisher Item Identifier
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Depositing User: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 26 Apr 2019 08:47
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2019 13:13
URI: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/36351

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