HKU scientist: Homovanillic acid can alleviate depression

HONG KONG: A University of Hong Kong professor and his research team has discovered that two gut microbes and the microbial metabolite homovanillic acid can help alleviate depression, opening up new therapeutic approaches for the medical condition that affects around 280 million people globally.

According to a report in China Daily, Professor Jia Wei from the LKS Faculty of Medicine at HKU conducted groundbreaking research that demonstrated the significant impact of HVA and the gut microbial species Roseburia intestinalis and Bifidobacterium longum in combatting depression.

This discovery marks the first time that HVA’s potential for treating depression has been revealed, opening up new avenues for treatment.

“This research discovery represents a significant milestone in the exploration of host-gut metabolic interactions in the regulation of brain neural functions, thanks to the tireless efforts of the team over the years,’ Jia said.

‘My team and I are greatly encouraged, hoping that it will bring some mu
ch-needed light to the dark world of depression sufferers.’

He said individuals with depression can increase HVA through daily dietary fiber supplements like nuts and cocoa powder or by supplementing Bifidobacterium longum and Roseburia intestinalis through a probiotic ‘cocktail’ therapy.

Jia collaborated with professors Zheng Xiaojiao from the Sixth People’s Hospital, which is affiliated to the School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Liu Tiemin from the School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, in conducting the groundbreaking research.

The team has been at the forefront of studying the intricate communication mechanism between the gut and the brain. Their focus lies in understanding how the gut microbiota directly or indirectly influences brain functions and its impact on the development of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The team conducted experiments using two mouse depression models, confirming the effectiveness of HVA and related gut microbial species in alleviating depressiv
e symptoms.

The research also marked a pivotal milestone in understanding the metabolic characteristics of individuals experiencing their first episode of clinical depression. The team’s findings revealed a significant reduction in key metabolites, particularly HVA, and several specific gut bacteria, including Roseburia intestinalis and Bifidobacterium longum, in patients with depression.

To build on these clinical insights, the researchers conducted animal experiments, validating the remarkable antidepressant effects of HVA and the two bacterial species.

Jia’s scientific contributions also extend beyond research findings. His team has established the world’s first clinical metabolomics database, providing invaluable resources for disease diagnosis and precision medicine.

His team recently developed a fully quantitative metabolite array technology that remains at the forefront of modern biotechnology, facilitating translational medical research in targeted metabolic profiling.

In recognition of his excep
tional academic achievements, Jia was elected as a member of the Physiology and Neuroscience Division, the Academia Europaea in 2023. He was also included in the esteemed “Highly Cited Chinese Researchers” list from 2020 to 2023, positioning him among the top 2 percent of scientists globally.

Source: Emirates News Agency