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January Specimen Spotlight: Exploring the ‘Gut-Brain Axis’

January 11, 2017

Human Gut

Got a gut feeling? It could be your biology.

This month, we highlight an order of healthy, fresh intestinal tissue for a team of researchers studying what is known as the gut-brain axis. We are providing them with samples from the stomach, duodenum, colon, and other intestinal regions to study the intestinal microbiome, or the trillions of microorganisms that reside in our intestinal tract.

The gut-brain axis refers to the two-way signaling between the microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system, including the brain. Researchers are aggressively exploring gut-brain axis activities, which have already been linked to manifestations of anxiety, depression, autism, and schizophrenia as well as metabolic, neurodegenerative, and urological disorders. Through gut-brain axis research, scientists are attempting to develop interventions, including medications, procedures, and other types of therapies to impact the “conversation” between the gut and the brain.

According to a recent piece in Scientific American, the brain “has sway on what ends up in the gut—and how the gut talks to the mind…This two-way communication…happens not only through nerve connections between the organs, but also through biochemical signals, such as hormones, that circulate in the body.” In one fascinating study on the power of the gut-brain axis, researchers transplanted microbes from adventurous mice into shy mice to make the latter more exploratory. Several studies have shown that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, our longest cranial nerve, can “edit” brain-to-digestive-tract signaling in order to create a feeling of satiety, constituting a potential treatment for obesity.

While the details of our researchers’ work is private, the gut-brain axis area of research is indeed fascinating and full of potential, spawning new companies and infusions of government research dollars. Our gut tells us this work will be transformational, and we’re eager and proud to support it.