Multiple factors contribute to the etiology of addiction, including genetics, sex, and a number of addiction-related behavioral traits. One behavioral trait where individuals assign incentive salience to food stimuli (“sign-trackers”, ST) are more impulsive compared to those that do not (“goal-trackers”, GT), as well as more sensitive to drugs and drug stimuli. Furthermore, this GT/ST phenotype predicts differences in other behavioral measures. Recent studies have implicated the gut microbiota as a key regulator of brain and behavior, and have shown that many microbiota-associated changes occur in a sex-dependent manner. However, few studies have examined how the microbiome might influence addiction-related behaviors. To this end, we sought to determine if gut microbiome composition was correlated with addiction-related behaviors determined by the GT/ST phenotype.
Outbred male ( N=101) and female ( N=101) heterogeneous stock rats underwent a series of behavioral tests measuring impulsivity, attention, reward-learning, incentive salience, and locomotor response. Cecal microbiome composition was estimated using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Behavior and microbiome were characterized and correlated with behavioral phenotypes. Robust sex differences were observed in both behavior and microbiome; further analyses were conducted within sex using the pre-established goal/sign-tracking (GT/ST) phenotype and partial least squares differential analysis (PLS-DA) clustered behavioral phenotype.
Overall microbiome composition was not associated to the GT/ST phenotype. However, microbial alpha diversity was significantly decreased in female STs. On the other hand, a measure of impulsivity had many significant correlations to microbiome in both males and females. Several measures of impulsivity were correlated with the genus Barnesiella in females. Female STs had notable correlations between microbiome and attentional deficient. In both males and females, many measures were correlated with the bacterial families Ruminocococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae.