Link between stress and the gut virome discovered

A world-first discovery on the role the human virome plays in stress management has taken place in APC Microbiome Ireland, a world leading SFI Research Centre based in University College Cork. First author, Dr Nathaniel Ritz, is pictured with APC Operations Manager Dr Lorraine Draper, who contributed to the research and corresponding authors, Profs Ted Dinan, Colin Hill and John Cryan.

Researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland (APC), a world-leading SFI research centre based in University College Cork (UCC), have made a world-first discovery in the role the human virome plays in stress management. The findings support the development of potential treatments to reduce stress and stress-related disorders through targeting the virome, the vast community of viruses hosted by every human body.

With one in eight people living with a mental disorder across the globe according to the WHO, stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety are extremely prevalent and are significant societal burdens.

Although most people think of  viruses  in their negative context (e.g. COVID-19, influenza  or the common cold) there is a rich ecosystem of other viruses known as bacteriophages that infect bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria and can play a vital role in maintaining our health and well-being. 

Over the past decade a new burgeoning field of research studying the human microbiome has taught us that the microbes living in our guts play a pivotal role in many important aspects of our physical and mental health.  Indeed it has been shown that the composition of bacteria in the gut changes with stress and that targeting these bacteria may dampen down the effects of stress in animals and humans. However, up to now all the focus has been on bacteria and viruses have been neglected.


To counter this, Prof John Cryan and colleagues teamed up with a leading bacteriophage lab of Prof Colin Hill at APC to decode the relative contribution of these gut viruses to stress.

The study published in Nature Microbiology, found for the first time that chronic stress led to changes in virome composition that was associated with behavioural, immune and bacteriome alterations. 

APC Director Prof Paul Ross said: “I’d like to congratulate the APC teams involved. The virome is a nascent research area and we are excited at the huge potential there to develop therapeutics. To have established a tangible link with chronic stress at this early stage is a huge advancement and we look forward to deepening this research area.”