Microbiome-host systems interactions: Protective effects of propionate upon the bloodbrain barrier
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Background: Gut microbiome composition and function are symbiotically linked with host health, and altered in metabolic, inflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders. Three recognized mechanisms exist by which the microbiome influences the gut-brain axis: modification of autonomic/sensorimotor connections, immune activation, and neuroendocrine pathway regulation. We hypothesized interactions between circulating gut-derived microbial metabolites and the blood-brain barrier (BBB) also contribute to the gut-brain axis. Propionate, produced from dietary substrates by colonic bacteria, stimulates intestinal gluconeogenesis and is associated with reduced stress behaviours, but its potential endocrine role has not been addressed. Results: After demonstrating expression of the propionate receptor FFAR3 on human brain endothelium, we examined the impact of a physiologically relevant propionate concentration (1 μM) on BBB properties in vitro. Propionate inhibited pathways associated with non-specific microbial infections via a CD14-dependent mechanism, suppressed expression of LRP-1 and protected the BBB from oxidative stress via NRF2 (NFE2L2) signaling. Conclusions: Together, these results suggest gut-derived microbial metabolites interact with the BBB, representing a fourth facet of the gut-brain axis that warrants further attention.