Implications of the gut microbiota in vulnerability to the social avoidance effects of chronic social defeat in male mice

Joanna Kasia Szyszkowicz, Alex Wong, Hymie Anisman, Zul Merali, Marie Claude Audet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Appreciable evidence suggests that perturbations within the gut microbiome and the immune system may play a key role in the pathogenesis of depression stemming from earlier stressful experiences. In the present investigation we examined whether microbial changes in cecum contents were associated with social avoidance behaviors, a feature of depression, and pro-inflammatory variations among socially stressed mice. Male C57BL/6 mice experienced social defeat or a control condition once a day for 10 consecutive days. Social avoidance behaviors were examined three weeks after the last defeat or control episode and blood, brain, and cecum contents were collected 24 h afterward for the determination of corticosterone, pro-inflammatory cytokines, and microbial populations. Mice that were most susceptible to the behavioral effects of chronic social defeat (reflected by severe social avoidance behaviors) displayed the greatest changes within particular sets of bacteria at the phylum and genus taxonomic ranks. Although plasma and brain cytokines were not significantly altered in socially defeated mice, changes in the mRNA expression of interleukin (IL)-1β and IL-6 within the prefrontal cortex were associated with elevated abundance of Flavobacterium spp. and reduced abundance of Turicibacter spp., which were also strongly correlated to social avoidance severity. Although at this time a causal connection cannot be inferred, these results point to the possibility that specific clusters of bacterial communities in cecum contents may be linked to vulnerability to social deficits stemming from prolonged social stressor experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-55
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Depressive-like behaviors
  • Gut microbiota
  • Microbiota-gut-brain axis
  • Pro-inflammatory cytokine
  • Social avoidance
  • Social defeat
  • Susceptibility/resilience


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