Sensory information from the environment drives reflexive and motivated behaviors in all organisms. The types of information that are detected, how this information is coded by neural circuits, and the responses that they trigger are thus fundamental to physiology. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is by far the largest interface between the mammalian body and the external environment. The dietary, microbial, and other signals communicated from the intestinal lumen to the nervous system are continuous inputs that define metabolic homeostasis, appetitive behaviors, and immune responses in ways that we are just beginning to understand.
The GI tract is unique among other organs because it contains its own intrinsic, enteric nervous system (ENS) embedded within its walls. The ENS is large (containing more neurons than the spinal cord) and functions as an important component of the brain-gut axis. Remarkably, the ENS is able to orchestrate many behaviors independently of the CNS because it contains local microcircuits with both afferent and efferent neurons located within the gut. Understanding how sensory information is transduced by these ENS circuits and used to drive behaviors is thus an important frontier in neuroscience. Our lab uses mouse genetic models, imaging, as well as in vivo and in vitro assays to investigate how enteric neurons, glia and specialized sensory epithelial cells in the gut transduce information about nutrients, microbes and other stimuli to modulate autonomic behaviors, such as GI motility, immune response, and nutrient absorption. Understanding how enteric circuits regulate these processes will elucidate how ENS dysfunction contributes to human disease.
Prospective students interested in neuro-immune interactions, glial biology, or sensory systems who are excited by the prospect of working at the interface of neuroscience and gut biology are invited to rotate in the lab.
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