Growing pre-clinical and clinical evidence implicate alterations in the composition of the gut microbiota to symptoms of diseases including mental illness, pain, neurological conditions, neurodevelopmental and drug abuse disorders. It has been hypothesized that gut-brain signaling through the neural, immune, endocrine and metabolic pathways modulates neurodevelopment, myelination, synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis with important implications for complex behaviors including cognitive, emotional and social functions.
Despite technological advances for sequencing and analysis of the gut microbiota and its metabolites that begun with Human Microbiome Project, the mechanisms and pathways by which the gut microbiota modulates neuronal activity and host behaviors are not well understood. Studies suggest that gut-brain communication could depend upon signals from the enteric nervous system through the vagus, activation of immune responses and microglia, and/or the production of microbiome-derived metabolites that influence neural circuit function via the bloodstream. To carefully address and disentangle underlying mechanisms and functional significance of the gut-microbiome- brain circuits interaction, technologically sophisticated, multidisciplinary research will be needed.
Recent advances from the BRAIN initiative toward the reconstruction of neural circuits, monitoring of brain activity and data analysis provide unprecedented opportunity to merge latest technological breakthroughs in the two interdisciplinary fields of gut and brain research, and to deepen the knowledge of mechanisms by which gut microbiota modulates neural circuits and complex behaviors. This workshop brings together experts in basic and translational gut-microbiota and brain research to identify opportunities to advance mechanistic understanding of how gut microbiota affects functioning of brain circuits and how its perturbations may contribute to mental illnesses.