Researchers have found that Serotonin, a chemical known for encouraging happiness and well-being, can reduce the ability of some intestinal pathogens to cause deadly infections. The findings, publishing in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, could offer a new way to fight infections for which few truly effective treatments currently exist.
In humans, trillions of bacteria live within this space. Most of these gut bacteria are beneficial, but pathogenic bacteria can also colonize the gastrointestinal tract, causing serious and potentially fatal infections. Because gut bacteria are significantly affected by their environment, the research team wondered whether the serotonin produced in the gut can affect the virulence of pathogenic bacteria that infect the gastrointestinal tract.
They worked with Escherichia coli O157, a species of bacteria that causes periodic outbreaks of often deadly foodborne infection. The team grew these pathogenic bacteria in Petri dishes in the lab, then exposed them to serotonin.
Gene expression tests showed that serotonin significantly reduced the expression of a group of genes that these bacteria use to cause infections.