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Pan European Networks: Science & Technology




John Bienenstock, Paul Forsythe and

Wolfgang Kunze

McMaster Brain-Body Institute

St Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton

+1 905 522 1155 ext. 35171

components which mediate biological effects in this manner

narrows down both the number of bacterial components which

may be involved, but also the fact that the ENS activation is

indirect via the epithelium,” explains Bienenstock.

A plethora of projects

Due to the multifaceted nature of their research on the

microbiome-gut-brain axis, the researchers also lead individual

studies on specific aspects of human development. As the

proportion of elderly to young individuals rises in regions across

the world, healthy ageing is increasingly becoming a focus of

study. It is clear that ageing-related changes in animals are

paralleled by alterations in the composition of intestinal

microbiota. This understanding has led Kunze’s laboratory to

initiate a research study investigating related aspects. “We are

studying how the intestinal nervous system and gut-to-brain

communication changes during ageing,” says Kunze. “We want to

see whether beneficial bacteria can reverse these changes.”

Forsythe is the lead investigator for the Canadian component of

their Israel-Canada collaborative project. As such, he co-ordinates

his laboratory’s efforts with collaborators not only in Israel, but also

in Chile. The project uses


– a genus of small flies – to

explore the role of antibiotics in influencing the make-up of the

microbiome and the consequent effects on the brain. “We will be

focusing on the effect of early life antibiotic treatment on specific

components of the immune system in mice,” explains Forsythe.

“We want to know how these immune changes are related to

alterations in brain chemistry and behaviour.” The team’s Israeli

collaborators will use the antibiotic-treated


model to

identify potentially novel communication pathways, or the networks

of genes linked to microbiota-dependent behaviour. Ultimately, the

knowledge garnered from this project will enable the team to look

for orthologous systems in mammals.

Moving the field forward

Across all their research endeavours, Bienenstock, Forsythe and

Kunze are moving the field of microbiome-gut-brain axis study

forward. An understanding of the specific interactions between

commensal bacteria, the nervous systems and the brain has huge

potential for the treatments of a broad range of disorders.

Therefore, their findings could inform the development of new

drug therapies and provide fascinating evidence for the role those

trillions of micro-organisms play in the healthy function of us all.

Delineating the mechanisms and pathways of communication

between gut microbes and the host will have significant

implications for understanding nervous and immune disorders.