Beyond Gut Health: Psychobiotics and the Gut-Brain Axis

Beneficial microbes have been used throughout human history and are found in numerous functional foods across the world. We now can grow and preserve these beneficial microbes as probiotic capsules to sell them independently of the functional foods they were discovered in. These traditional probiotics have been shown to impact the microbiome and support overall gut health. While there are numerous probiotic strains available today, few are discovered with a specific function in mind that goes beyond supporting gut health. The next generation of probiotics incorporates technological innovations and significant scientific advances that enhance probiotic effectiveness by supporting more targeted health benefits.

Unlike traditional probiotics, next-generation probiotics may include novel strains of beneficial bacteria that produce bioactive compounds targeting specific areas of human health. There is a large unmet need around mental health where the use of probiotics can assist in supporting a healthy stress response. These probiotics are termed psychobiotics, and when consumed in adequate amounts, they produce a health benefit by working to improve mental health.1 Psychobiotics work via the gut-brain axis, which is a bidirectional communication system that exists between bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system (CNS). The link between the gut microbiome and mental health has recently been identified.2 It has been shown that both depression and anxiety symptoms are directly associated with alterations in the microbiota.3 While the mechanism by which bacteria communicate via the gut-brain axis is still being elucidated, it is known that bacteria in your GI tract can synthesize molecules that have psychobiotic potential.

One of the molecules produced by bacteria in your GI tract also plays an integral part in the central nervous system: GABA. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a naturally occurring amino acid in the brain that acts as the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter for the CNS. Inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA are chemical messengers in the brain that help to reduce the activity of specific neurons and aid in calming the nervous system. GABA also plays a crucial role in regulating brain function by altering mood and stress levels. GABA works by binding to specific receptors in the brain to reduce the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters, thereby promoting a calming effect in the CNS. By increasing GABA levels, individuals may experience reduced feelings of stress increasing overall relaxation and improving sleep quality.4 Currently, individuals can purchase chemically synthesized GABA to take as an oral supplement, however this can lead to a transient spike in GABA levels.5 At Verb Biotics™, we have developed an alternative approach to traditional GABA supplementation.

Lactiplantibacillus plantarum Lp815™ is a probiotic designed to be taken daily for prolonged GABA release. Previous research shows that lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactiplantibacillus plantarum, are known to naturally produce GABA to help them survive environmental stressors, regulate internal pH levels, and communicate with other bacteria in their environment.6 GABA-producing probiotic bacteria, such as Lp815™, can serve as a natural microbial source of GABA that is produced while the probiotic travels through the GI tract. Lactiplantibacillus plantarum Lp815™ is a novel probiotic that has exceptional GABA production capability. This strain was discovered using advanced computational tools and high-throughput screening techniques to identify high levels of GABA production. Clinical trials in healthy subjects are currently underway to investigate the timing and duration to ‘feel the effect’ by the GABA probiotic Lp815™ strain.

As research and development in the field of probiotics continue to evolve, scientists at Verb Biotics™ are discovering new probiotics that are tailored to support specific areas of health. This is leading to the development of innovative next-generation probiotics with enhanced health-promoting properties that go beyond gut health. Discovering new solutions to support mental health is critical, given that 33% of US adults report symptoms of anxiety and depression. Psychobiotics could be a step in the right direction. To learn more about our novel GABA Probiotic, please visit our solutions page at:

About the author: Mark Koenigsknecht, Ph.D., is Verb’s Director of Research. Mark has over 20 years of experience in the field of microbiology with special expertise in microbial genetics, metabolism, and the role of the microbiome in health and disease. He is particularly interested in the discovery of new probiotic microbes, specifically anaerobic bacteria.

(1)        Sarkar, A.; Lehto, S. M.; Harty, S.; Dinan, T. G.; Cryan, J. F.; Burnet, P. W. J. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Trends Neurosci. 2016, 39 (11), 763–781.

(2)        Foster, J. A.; Neufeld, K.-A. M. Gut–Brain Axis: How the Microbiome Influences Anxiety and Depression. Trends Neurosci. 2013, 36 (5), 305–312.

(3)        Del Toro-Barbosa, M.; Hurtado-Romero, A.; Garcia-Amezquita, L. E.; García-Cayuela, T. Psychobiotics: Mechanisms of Action, Evaluation Methods and Effectiveness in Applications with Food Products. Nutrients 2020, 12 (12), 3896.

(4)        Ngo, D.-H.; Vo, T. S. An Updated Review on Pharmaceutical Properties of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. Molecules 2019, 24 (15), 2678.

(5)        Li, J.; Zhang, Z.; Liu, X.; Wang, Y.; Mao, F.; Mao, J.; Lu, X.; Jiang, D.; Wan, Y.; Lv, J.-Y.; Cao, G.; Zhang, J.; Zhao, N.; Atkinson, M.; Greiner, D. L.; Prud’homme, G. J.; Jiao, Z.; Li, Y.; Wang, Q. Study of GABA in Healthy Volunteers: Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics. Front. Pharmacol. 2015, 6, 260.

(6)        Mazzoli, R.; Pessione, E. The Neuro-Endocrinological Role of Microbial Glutamate and GABA Signaling. Front. Microbiol. 2016, 7, 1934.

(7)        Adults Reporting Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Sex. KFF. (accessed 2024-03-10).