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Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: from Metchnikoff to modern advances: Part I – autointoxication revisited

Alison C Bested1, Alan C Logan2* and Eva M Selhub3

Author Affiliations

1 Complex Chronic Diseases Program, BC Women's Hospital and Health Centre, B223A-4500 Oak Street, Vancouver, BC V6H 3N1, Canada

2 CAMNR, 775 Blithedale Avenue, Suite 364, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA

3 Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, 40 Crescent St., Suite 201, Waltham, MA 02453, USA

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Gut Pathogens 2013, 5:5  doi:10.1186/1757-4749-5-5

Published: 18 March 2013


Mental health disorders, depression in particular, have been described as a global epidemic. Research suggests that a variety of lifestyle and environmental changes may be driving at least some portion of the increased prevalence. One area of flourishing research involves the relationship between the intestinal microbiota (as well as the related functional integrity of the gastrointestinal tract) and mental health. In order to appreciate the recent scientific gains in this area, and its potential future directions, it is critical to review the history of the topic. Probiotic administration (e.g. Lactobacillus) and fecal microbiota transfer for conditions associated with depression and anxiety is not a new concept. Here, in the first of a 3-part series, we begin by reviewing the origins of the contemporary research, providing a critical appraisal of what has become a revisionist history of the controversial term ‘autointoxication’. We argue that legitimate interests in the gut-brain-microbiota connection were obscured for decades by its association with a narrow historical legacy. Historical perspectives provide a very meaningful context to the current state of the contemporary research as outlined in parts II and III.

Intestinal microbiota; Autointoxication; Depression; Anxiety; Probiotics; Microbial ecology; Lipopolysaccharide endotoxin; Diet; Intestinal permeability