Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Second Department


Reader 1

Jonathan Holt

Reader 2

Sharon Stranford

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Rights Information

© 2017 Christina Cobb


Our gut microbiota is involved in human development, nutrition, and the pathogenesis of gut disorders, but has more recently been implicated as a possible mechanism in the pathophysiology of several brain disorders, including disorders of mood and affect, such as depression. Researchers have referred to this dynamic, bidirectional signaling pathway between the gut and the brain as the “gut-brain axis.” However, most research on this axis has been limited to rodent studies, and there has been little insight into the mechanism behind it. I propose that the kynurenine pathway, where tryptophan is converted to kynurenine, is a compelling mechanism mediating the gut microbiota’s influence on depression. Kynurenine is a metabolite associated with depression, and this pathway has been shown to be manipulated through probiotic (Lactobacillus reuteri) consumption. I propose to study a probiotic intervention in humans, which would assess tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway by measuring metabolites downstream of this pathway. Urine, feces and blood samples would be collected from two groups, control and probiotic treatment, on day zero and day thirty. Colonic biopsies would be obtained on day thirty, and various analyses would be run to measure metabolite concentrations from the collected samples. The results from this study will help clarify a mechanistic connection between gut microbes and depression via the kynurenine pathway. Additionally, findings could indicate that a probiotic intervention has the ability to influence depressive behavior via a two-pronged approach originating from the kynurenine pathway.