Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury Alters the Gastrointestinal Microbiome in a Time-Dependent Manner

Susannah E. Nicholson*, Lora T. Watts, David M. Burmeister, Daniel Merrill, Shannon Scroggins, Yi Zou, Zhao Lai, Ramesh Grandhi, Aaron M. Lewis, Larry M. Newton, Brian J. Eastridge, Martin G. Schwacha

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The microbiome is defined as the collective genomes of the microbes (composed of bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that colonize the human body, and alterations have been associated with a number of disease states. Changes in gut commensals can influence the neurologic system via the brain-gut axis, and systemic insults such as trauma or traumatic brain injury (TBI) may alter the gut microbiome. The objective of this study was to evaluate the gut microbiome in a preclinical TBI cortical impact model. Male rats underwent craniotomy and randomized to a sham group (n=4), or a moderate TBI (n=10) using a pneumatic impactor. MRI and behavioral assessments were performed pre-TBI and on days 2, 7, and 14 days thereafter. Microbiome composition was determined with 16s rRNA sequencing from fecal sample DNA pre-TBI and 2 hrs, 1, 3, and 7 days afterward. Alpha- and β-bacterial diversity, as well as organizational taxonomic units (OTUs), were determined. Significant changes in the gut microbiome were evident as early as 2 h after TBI as compared with pre-injured samples and sham rats. While there were varying trends among the phylogenetic families across time, some changes persisted through 7 days in the absence of therapeutic intervention. While large structural lesions and behavioral deficits were apparent post-TBI, there were modest but significant decreases in α-diversity. Moreover, both changes in representative phyla and α-diversity measures were significantly correlated with MRI-determined lesion volume. These results suggest that changes in the microbiome may represent a novel biomarker to stage TBI severity and predict functional outcome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-248
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain-gut axis
  • commensals
  • gastrointestinal (GI)
  • gut
  • microbiome
  • traumatic brain injury (TBI)


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