Gut, Brain and Psychiatric Disorders


The intimate relationship between the gut and brain is reflected clinically by the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in patients with gastrointestinal diseases that are either inflammatory or functional in origin. There is also growing awareness of the prevalence of G.I. Symptoms in patients with primary psychiatric conditions that include autism. Mechanisms that link the two organ systems include neural and endocrine pathways, the immune system and the intestinal microbiota. Preclinical research in the Institute addresses the bi-directional communication system between the intestinal microbiota and the brain using murine models of intestinal and psychiatric disorders. There is a close collaborative relationship between the Institute, and the Department of Psychiatry and the division of Gastroenterology that permit bench to bedside research in this area. Approaches include the characterization, using culture and sequencing-based techniques, of the intestinal microbiota in in patients with primary psychiatric disorders that include anxiety and depression. In addition, translational research approaches include the colonization of germ-free mice with microbiota from patients with primary psychiatric disorders to examine brain-gut linkages. These approaches have enabled the identification of probiotic bacteria that influence brain function and that may be beneficial in treating disorders such as anxiety or depression that occur in patients with chronic gastrointestinal illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical evaluation of this putative therapy is underway in collaboration with clinical colleagues in gastroenterology and psychiatry.

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