Dissecting Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms for Communication Across the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis

Elaine Hsiao, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

Women’s Council Seed Grant Recipient

As the body’s control center, the brain integrates complex sensory information and rapidly responds to the needs and experiences of every body system. In line with the finding that our bodies are comprised of up to 10X more bacterial cells than human cells, which contribute 360X more genes than does the human genome, it is now known that the brain communicates bidirectionally with the resident microbes that make up “us”. Increasing evidence indicates that the gut microbiome fundamentally impacts the development and function of the nervous system, modifying complex behaviors, neurotransmitter signaling, transport of chemicals between the blood and brain, activation of brain immune cells and global brain gene expression. Such long-range interactions between the brain and microbiome support the ability of microbe-based therapies to treat various symptoms of neurological diseases in mice and humans. Overall, that indigenous microbes have the remarkable capacity to modulate neural activity and behavior suggests that elucidating the interactions between microbes and the nervous system will provide new insights into brain development and function, and potentially uncover tractable strategies for treating complex nervous system disorders. Currently, mechanisms underlying how the gut microbiota signals to the brain are lacking and little is known about the precise functions of particular bacterial species. To uncover key mechanisms that enable interactions between the microbiota and brain, we will examine how peripheral neuronal activity is affected by the gut microbiota with aims to identify specific microbes and microbial signals that modulate neuronal activity.

Other Grants

Lindsay M. De Biase, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles
The Role of Microglial Lysosomes in Selective Neuronal Vulnerability
Synapses, the sites of signaling between neurons in the brain, play essential roles in learning, memory, and the health of neurons themselves. An enduring mystery is why some neurons are…
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As animals navigate their environments, they construct internal models of the external sensory world and use these models to guide their behavior. This ability to incorporate ongoing sensory stimuli into…
Xiaojing Gao, Ph.D., Stanford University
When Neural Circuits Meet Molecular Circuits: Quantitative Genetic Manipulation with Single-cell Consistency
Cells are the building blocks of our bodies. We get sick when the cells “misbehave”. The way modern gene therapies work is to introduce genes, fragments of DNA molecules that…
Rafiq Huda, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Conducting the Orchestra of Movement—Functional Role of Striatal Astrocytes in Health and Disease
Movement requires coordinated activity across a large brain-wide network. The striatum is a particularly important part of this circuit; it integrates motor-related information from many distinct brain regions to regulate…