INTRODUCTION: An estimated 15%-29% of patients report new gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms after coronavirus-19 disease (COVID-19) while 4%-31% report new depressive symptoms. These symptoms may be secondary to gut microbiome tryptophan metabolism and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)-based signaling. METHODS: This study used specimens from 2 patient cohorts: (i) fecal samples from patients with acute COVID-19 who participated in a randomized controlled trial testing prebiotic fiber and (ii) blood samples from patients with acute COVID-19. Six months after recovering from COVID-19, both cohorts answered questions related to GI symptoms and anxiety or depression. Microbiome composition and function, focusing on tryptophan metabolism-associated pathways, and plasma 5-HT were assessed. RESULTS: In the first cohort (n = 13), gut microbiome L-tryptophan biosynthesis during acute COVID-19 was decreased among those who developed more severe GI symptoms (2.0-fold lower log activity comparing those with the most severe GI symptoms vs those with no symptoms, P = 0.06). All tryptophan pathways showed decreased activity among those with more GI symptoms. The same pathways were also decreased in those with the most severe mental health symptoms after COVID-19. In an untargeted analysis, 5 additional metabolic pathways significantly differed based on subsequent development of GI symptoms. In the second cohort (n = 39), plasma 5-HT concentration at the time of COVID-19 was increased 5.1-fold in those with GI symptoms alone compared with those with mental health symptoms alone ( P = 0.02). DISCUSSION: Acute gut microbiome-mediated reduction in 5-HT signaling may contribute to long-term GI and mental health symptoms after COVID-19. Future studies should explore modification of 5-HT signaling to reduce post-COVID symptoms.
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