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From Infection to the Microbiome: An Evolving Role of Microbes in Schizophrenia

  • Emily G. SeveranceEmail author
  • Robert H. Yolken
Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series


The study of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi, and protozoa in the context of psychiatric disorders may be surprising to some. This intersection of disciplines, however, has a rich history and is currently revitalized by newfound functions of the microbiome and the gut-brain axis in human diseases. Schizophrenia, in particular, fits this model as a disorder with gene and environmental roots that may be anchored in the immune system. In this context, the combination of a precisely timed pathogen exposure in a person with genetically encoded altered immunity may have especially destructive consequences for the central nervous system (CNS). Furthermore, significant components of immunity, such as the development of the immune response and the concept of immune tolerance, are largely dictated by the commensal residents of the microbiome. When this community of microbes is imbalanced, perhaps as the result of a pathogen invasion, stress, or immune gene deficiency, a pathological cycle of localized inflammation, endothelial barrier compromise, translocation of gut-derived products, and systemic inflammation may ensue. If these pathologies enable access of gut and microbial metabolites and immune molecules to the CNS across the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and studies of the gut-brain axis support this hypothesis, a worsening of cognitive deficits and psychiatric symptoms is predicted to occur in susceptible individuals with schizophrenia. In this chapter, we review the role of microbes in various stages of this model and how these organisms may contribute to documented phenotypes of schizophrenia. An increased understanding of the role of pathogens and the microbiome in psychiatric disorders will better guide the development of microbial and immune-based therapeutics for disease prevention and treatment.


Gastrointestinal Host-pathogen interactions Microbiota Neuroimmune Psychiatry 



This work was supported by a NIMH P50 Silvio O. Conte Center at Johns Hopkins (grant# MH-94268) and by the Stanley Medical Research Institute.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology, Department of PediatricsJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA

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