The role of gut microbiota both in human health and in disease is the subject of intense investigation. The interactions between gut microbiota and the host involve a complex network of metabolic pathways and of biologically active molecules secreted by intestinal bacteria, some of which are packed into nanoparticles known as outer membrane vesicles (OMVs). OMVs can enter the systemic circulation and be delivered to different organs including the brain, eliciting a variety of immunological and metabolic responses. The resulting acute and chronic effects are largely unknown. However, recent studies suggest that OMVs could play a critical role in immune homeostasis and in acute inflammatory reactions. Moreover, the "leaky gut" hypothesis has recently emphasized the role of the brain-gut axis in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorders, pointing to the importance of bacteria and of bacterial products delivered into the circulation in eliciting the low-grade inflammatory response associated with this syndrome. Interestingly, experimental evidence suggests that OMVs can also affect the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. This review also highlights the importance of investigating possible influences of OMVs on the development of the immune system.
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