Identifying gut microbiome-responsive brain biomarkers of cognitive impairments relevant to schizophrenia: A next-generation functional CNS circuit mapping approach

Ireland has among the highest rates of mental illness in Europe. Schizophrenia is the leading psychiatric diagnosis nationally. Schizophrenia patients have problems remembering their past, are unable for social interactions and cannot hold on to information long enough to use it. Scientists have found that gut microbes can affect our mood and motivation which can interfere with our mental abilities. Recent research shows, that information from our gut gets transferred to our brain through the vagus nerve contacting directly neurons in the brainstem. Currently, we do not know how this vagal information gets processed in the brain. Importantly, there is evidence that disruptions in the communication between gut microbes, vagus and brain often accompany the core symptoms of schizophrenia. My research will attempt to answer (sex/gender-dependently): 1) How does our gut microbiome (through the vagus nerve) interfere with how well we remember? 2) Do gut microbes influence our social interactions? 3) Can our gut microbes affect our concentration and ability to follow instructions? Leveraging new cutting-edge methodologies (that I have designed), I will map out three different brain pathways likely to control the gut bacteria’s influence on our behaviour. This will allow me (for the first time globally) to decode brain activity along the vagus nerve-connected brain pathways in relation to gut health and different types of mental disability. Simultaneously, I will identify at very high level of details the connections between the participating nerve cells deep in the brain. GUTTEDNEURONS will transform our fundamental understanding of the complex relationships between gut microbes, brain and behaviour. Moreover, by exploiting these gut-brain-behaviour relationships for novel, better-targeted therapeutic interventions, GUTTEDNEURONS could revolutionise how schizophrenia and similar brain disorders are effectively treated. This could have momentous impact – not only for Irish society but significantly improve the lives of millions of people globally.

Award Date
01 July 2022
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Dr Linda Katona
Host Institution
University College Cork
Emerging Investigator Awards for Health (EIA) 2022