Magnetotactic bacteria from the human gut microbiome associated with orientation and navigation regions of the brain

Rozalyn A. Simon*, Purnika Damindi Ranasinghe, Nawroz Barazanji, Malin Bergman Jungeström, Jie Xu, Olga Bednarska, Lena Serrander, Maria Engström, Dennis A. Bazylinski, Åsa V. Keita, Susanna Walter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magnetotactic bacteria (MTB), ubiquitous in soil and fresh and saltwater sources have been identified in the microbiome of humans and many animals. MTB endogenously produce magnetic nanocrystals enabling them to orient and navigate along geomagnetic fields. Similar magnetite deposits have been found throughout the tissues of the human brain, including brain regions associated with orientation such as the cerebellum and hippocampus, the origins of which remain unknown. Speculation over the role and source of MTB in humans, as well as any association with the brain, remain unanswered. We performed a metagenomic analysis of the gut microbiome of 34 healthy females as well as grey matter volume analysis in magnetite-rich brain regions associated with orientation and navigation with the goal of identifying specific MTB that could be associated with brain structure in orientation and navigation regions. We identified seven MTB in the human gut microbiome: Magnetococcus marinus, Magnetospira sp. QH-2, Magnetospirillum magneticum, Magnetospirillum sp. ME-1, Magnetospirillum sp. XM-1, Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense, and Desulfovibrio magneticus. Our preliminary results show significant negative associations between multiple MTB with bilateral flocculonodular lobes of the cerebellum and hippocampus (adjusted for total intracranial volume, uncorrected P<0.05). These findings indicate that MTB in the gut are associated with grey matter volume in magnetite-rich brain regions related to orientation and navigation. These preliminary findings support MTB as a potential biogenic source for brain magnetite in humans. Further studies will be necessary to validate and elucidate the relationship between these bacteria, magnetite concentrations, and brain function.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Oceanology and Limnology
Early online date09 Sep 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 09 Sep 2021


  • magnetotactic bacteria
  • human microbiome
  • microbiota-gut-brain axis
  • magnetoreception


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