Study Links Chemotherapy-Induced Cognitive Decline to Gut Health


New research from Ohio State University has reveals a significant connection between chemotherapy-induced cognitive decline and the gut microbiome. The study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, is the first to demonstrate this link in humans.

“Our Intelligut Study found that the gut microbiome has been implicated in cognitive side effects of chemotherapy in humans,” said lead researcher, Leah Pyter, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience. “The potential connection between the gut and the brain would allow us to create treatments for the gut to treat the brain.”

The study observed 77 breast cancer patients before, during, and after chemotherapy. It analyzed fecal samples, blood, and cognitive measures, uncovering notable findings:

  • Chemotherapy induces microbiome disruption and inflammation.
  • This disruption correlates with cognitive decline and inflammation.
  • Patients with cognitive impairment showed unique chemotherapy-induced microbiome alterations.

“We found that patients treated with chemotherapy who showed decreases in cognitive performance also had reductions in the diversity of their gut microbiome,” Dr. Pyter explained.

This research builds on Dr. Pyter’s previous work with mouse models, which indicated that chemotherapy-induced shifts in the gut microbiome lead to neurobiological changes and behavioral side effects. The current study confirms a similar association in humans.

Dr. Pyter emphasized the potential for gut microbiome-focused interventions, such as fecal microbial transplantation, to improve behavioral side effects of chemotherapy.

David Cohn, MD, interim chief executive officer of The Ohio State University Cancer Treatment and Research Center, highlighted the importance of managing chemotherapy side effects without compromising its efficacy. “Chemotherapy is a very important tool for stopping many cancers and side effects should not deter patients who would benefit from this type of therapy from pursuing it,” said Dr. Cohn. “Our team is working every day to develop ways to manage the side effects of disease treatment with an eye toward quality of life.”