Study shows prebiotics, lactoferrin make rats calmer

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / FikMik
iStock / FikMik
In a study that advances the state of evidence for the gut-brain connection, scientists in Colorado have shown that prebiotics and other fractions derived from human milk can reduce anxiety in juvenile rats and induce other changes in the brain.

The study, conducted by neuroscience researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and a scientist from Mead Johnson Nutrition (which funded the study), looked at the effect of supplementing the diet of rats with prebiotics and bioactive fractions originally derived from human milk.  The researchers supplemented the test rats diets with galactooligosaccharide and polydextrose as well as the glycoproteins lactoferrin and milk fat globule membrane to test whether these ingredients could promote brain plasticity, cognition, and emotion regulation. 

Measured taken of activity, feces, brain chemistry markers

The behavior of the supplemented rats was tested by a version of a standard test method for rodent anxiety to see how willing the animals are to venture into the center of an open space.

The test measures how many times they enter a predetermined square within the center of an enclosure and how much time they spend there. A less anxious rat investigates the area as opposed to zipping across to the opposite edge of the space, in other words.

The researchers also collected droppings, and cultured these to look at the changes in Lactobacillus​ species in the supplemented rats’ guts. Lead researcher Monika Fleshner, PhD, said this fairly crude assay was chosen primarily for expediency and cost reasons. 

After four weeks, the rats were sacrificed and their brains harvested. The supplemented rats’ brains showed significantly increased mRNA expression for cfos, brain derived neurotropic factor, and the GluN1 subunit of the NMDA receptor in the prefrontal cortex and reduced cfos mRNA within the amygdala. 

Calmer, more emotionally balanced rats

To sum up, the researchers found that these ingredients made the rats calmer. They also gave rise to significant changes in the makeup of their microbiomes, and changed the levels of several chemical markers of brain activity.

“A diet consisting of prebiotics, lactoferrin and MFGM fed in early life increased Lactobacillus spp., gene expression for molecules involved in neural plasticity and activity in the prefrontal cortex, and decreased activity-related gene expression in the amygdala, a pattern consistent with adaptive emotion regulation,”​ they wrote.

While breast milk as a feedstock is of course untenable for a commercial product, the lead researcher, Fleshner told NutraIngredients-USA that Mead Johnson’s interest in the study was to find ways to improve its infant formulas by zeroing in on what effects the various fractions of breast milk are having in the body.  But she said the results are consistent with results in humans in various life stages.

“We have done some studies where we fed these ingredients to adults and they had similar results. [This kind of supplementation] is clearly having an impact on the brain,” ​Fleshner said.

Fleshner will present the results of this and other recent research at NutraIngredients-USA’s Probiota Americas event taking place this week in Miami, FL.  Check out NutraIngredients-USA for live coverage of the event.

Source:Neuroscience Letters
Volume 677, 11.June 20189, Pages 103-109; doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2018.010.052
“Feeding the developing brain: Juvenile rats fed diet rich in prebiotics and bioactive milk fractions exhibit reduced anxiety-related behavior and modified gene expression in emotion circuits”
Authors: Mika A, Gaffney M, Roller R, et al.

Do you want to learn more about prebiotics? Join us THIS WEEK at Probiota Americas in Miami

Probiota Americas 2018 new

Questions such as where prebiotics fit into the digestive health picture and how that should be conveyed to consumers will be among the things discussed at the upcoming Probiota Americas​2018​​​ event set for June 5-7 in Miami, FL.

This one-of-a-kind industry leading event brings together researchers, product developers, regulatory experts and marketers in one venue. For more information or to register, click here​​​​.

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