The more researchers look, the more connections they find between the microbes in our intestines and those in our brain. Gut bacteria appear to influence everything from depression to autism. Now, a study on how mice overcome fear is starting to reveal more about the mysterious link between gut and mind.
“This work is amazing,” says Peng Zheng, a neuroscientist at Chongqing Medical University in China who was not involved with the research. The study, he says, could provide new insight into several mental disorders.
The research used a classic Pavlovian test: Shock a mouse on the foot while playing a tone and the rodent will quickly learn to associate the noise with pain, flinching whenever it hears the sound. But the association doesn’t last forever. After several sessions of hearing the tone but not getting the shock, the mouse will forget the association, and the sound will have no effect. This “forgetting” is important for people as well; it’s impaired, for example, in those with chronic anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.