Centre for Precision Health / School of Medical and Health Sciences
Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province / Scientific Research Project of Jiangsu Provincial Healthy Commission / Jiangsu Qing-Lan Project (Year 2020), the Leadership program / Young Science and Technology Innovation Team of Xuzhou Medical University
Depression is a common and debilitating condition for which effective treatments are needed. Lepidium meyenii Walp (Maca) is a plant with potential medicinal effects in treating depression. Recently, there has been growing interest in plant-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) due to their low toxicity and ability to transport to human cells. Targeting the gut–brain axis, a novel strategy for depression management, may be achieved through the use of Maca-derived EVs (Maca-EVs). In this study, we successfully isolated Maca-EVs using gradient ultracentrifugation and characterized their shape, size, and markers (CD63 and TSG101). The in vivo imaging showed that the Dil-labeled Maca-EVs crossed the brain–blood barrier and accumulated in the brain. The behavioral tests revealed that Maca-EVs dramatically recovered the depression-like behaviors of unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS) mice. UCMS mice fecal were characterized by an elevated abundance of g_Enterococcus, g_Lactobacillus, and g_Escherichia_Shigella, which were significantly restored by administration of Maca-EVs. The effects of Maca-EVs on the altered microbial and fecal metabolites in UCMS mice were mapped to biotin, pyrimidine, and amino acid (tyrosine, alanine, aspartate, and glutamate) metabolisms, which were closely associated with the serotonin (5-HT) production. Maca-EVs were able to increase serum monoamine neurotransmitter levels in UCMS mice, with 5-HT showing the most significant changes. We further demonstrated that 5-HT improved the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a key regulator of neuronal plasticity, and its subsequent activation of TrkB/p-AKT signaling by regulating the GTP-Cdc42/ERK pathway. These findings suggest that Maca-EVs enhance 5-HT release, possibly by modulating the gut–brain axis, to improve depression behavior. Our study sheds light on a novel approach to depression treatment using plant-derived EVs.
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