They say that the thing you are looking for is always in the last place you look, so it would make sense that the legendary Fountain of Youth – searched for since humans got old – would be found in the last place anyone would think to look for it … a toilet. Wait … what?
“Shifts in intestinal microbiota composition affect a variety of systems; however, evidence of their direct impact on cognitive functions is still lacking. We tested whether faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) from aged donor mice into young adult recipients altered the hippocampus, an area of the central nervous system (CNS) known to be affected by the ageing process and related functions.”
In a new study published in Microbiome Journal, researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwish, England, detail how they moved #2 up to #1 and searched in toilets for the Fountain of Youth. Specifically, they collected fecal matter – the new 21st century miracle treatment for C. difficile colitis – and transplanted it in younger mice. If that sounds like the wrong direction, you’re right – their original intent was to determine if fecal transplants from older to younger mice altered their gut microbiome and affected their brains’ hippocampus, resulting in impairment of spatial learning and memory. And?
“We report that FMT from aged donors led to impaired spatial learning and memory in young adult recipients, whereas anxiety, explorative behaviour and locomotor activity remained unaffected. This was paralleled by altered expression of proteins involved in synaptic plasticity and neurotransmission in the hippocampus.”
Dr, David Vauzour, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, and his team saw a noticeable decrease in the cognitive function of the younger mice after the fecal transplant from older ones and an age-associated shift in their gut microbiota – the microbes in the digestive tract.
What does all of this have to do with the Fountain of Youth?
“While it remains to be seen whether transplantation from very young donors can restore cognitive function in aged recipients, the findings demonstrate that age-related shifts in the gut microbiome can alter components of the central nervous system.”
Before you suggest that these researchers be given a fecal transplant where the sun doesn’t shine for raising your hopes about a Fountain of Youth, this is actually good news. The study demonstrates that there’s a connection between the gut and the brain that’s physical rather than judgmental (the “gut feeling”) – changes in the gut microbiota can definitely alter the central nervous system. Put that together with the proven effectiveness in treating colitis by fecal transplant and the path to transplanting young fecal matter into older humans suddenly seems less distasteful and certainly less controversial than harvesting the blood of young people as some Silicon Valley billionaires are attempting.
As always, more research is required … but any scientific quest for using fecal transplants to fight aging will certainly be well-funded and closely watched (figurately, of course). Does this mean your dog is getting smarter when it ingests other dogs’ poo in the doggie park? That’s another study.