CUNY SPH team discovers relationships between the gut microbiome and psycho-cognitive traits in older adults

Nov. 30, 2020
elderly dementia patient

In a paper published in the journal Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health, two CUNY SPH alumnae Audrey Renson and Lora Kasselman, along with Associate Professors Levi Wadron and Heidi Jones, provide novel evidence of shared relationships between the gut microbiome and multiple psycho-cognitive traits in older adults.

The paper, “Gut bacterial taxonomic abundances vary with cognition, personality, and mood in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study,” uses data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a cohort study of older adults, to study associations between the gut microbiome and multiple psycho-cognitive traits including cognition, personality, and mood. Studying multiple traits within the same population addresses limitations in prior work and provides information on gut flora and brain function in healthy older adults. If we can understand this relationship in healthy older adults, then we can identify alterations in the gut microbiome that may cause cognitive dysfunction and mood disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Establishment of “abnormal” gut microbial signatures would open up the possibility of treatment targeted to restoration of healthy gut flora and improvement in disease outcomes.

The findings from this study showed shared associations between specific gut microbial genera and an array of psycho-cognitive traits including associations between Megamonas and all measured psycho-cognitive traits, associations between Butyvibrio and cognitive and mood traits, associations between Fusobacterium and cognitive and personality traits, associations between Cloacibacillus and mood traits, and finally an association between Pseudoramibacter eubacterium and personality. These results, while preliminary, support the hypothesis that the gut microbiome could be potential targets for the prevention or treatment of disorders related to cognition, mood, and personality.

“We are thrilled to share this research led by two of our MPH alumnae–Audrey Renson, a current doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Lora Kasseman, a current faculty member at NYU Long Island School of Medicine,” says Dr. Jones. “It is exciting to see our graduates, the next generation of researchers, at the forefront of this important area of research.”

This project involved a collaboration with Pamela Herd, the Principal Investigator of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, who is currently a Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and Jennifer Dowd, former faculty at CUNY SPH and currently Associate Professor of Demography and Population Health at the University of Oxford.

Audrey Renson, Lora J. Kasselman, Jennifer B. Dowd, Levi Waldron, Heidi E. Jones, Pamela Herd, Gut bacterial taxonomic abundances vary with cognition, personality, and mood in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health, 2020, 100155, ISSN 2666-3546.