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Approved Research

Age-related changes in microbiota-gut-brain axis with aging in participants with different cognitive profiles and live experiences.

Principal Investigator: Dr Vasily Vakorin
Approved Research ID: 72781
Approval date: October 18th 2021

Lay summary

People often make their decisions trusting their gut feelings. There is a physiological basis for that. Not only do the gut bacteria and the brain talk to each other, but they also influence each other. Gut microbes affect our mood and behaviour. In turn, the brain can change bacterial composition and function. Such communication between two fundamental systems, which goes in both directions, is known as the gut-microbiota-brain axis. Every day scientific literature offers evidence that disturbances in the relationships between the microbes and the brain have implications for a broad spectrum of health issues. These health conditions include not only various food sensitivities and gut disorders but also psychiatric disorders like depression and brain disorders like autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Understanding the influence of the gut-microbiota-brain axis on brain function and behaviour is at the forefront of neuroscience research, and this axis is essential to normal and healthy brain development.

We aim to explore how the relationships between gut microbes and the brain change in ageing and vary across individuals with different cognitive abilities and life experiences. Asking questions on the gut-microbiota-brain axis and its relation to cognition and individual life experience requires highly diverse data from many research fields. The UK Biobank provides a unique opportunity for researchers to access such data. We will look into single-nucleotide polymorphism or SNP, representing variations in single nucleotides at a specific position in the human genome, which previous studies associated with gut microbes. The brain will be described in terms of its functional networks identified by functional MRI. We will consider a wide range of cognitive tests to cluster all the participants into sub-groups, based on the similarity of participants' cognitive profiles or life experiences such as employment history. The project is extensive in methods and relies on diverse expertise in genomics, neuroimaging, and data science. We expect to get concluding results within two years.

The impact on public health will be reached by identifying bacteria families and functional networks, which are associated with prolonged healthy cognition or risks related to individual life experiences. As we will consider an entire spectrum of ageing trajectories in the gut-microbiota-brain axis, we ultimately target the personalized recommendations for staying within those trajectories that are beneficial for a given sub-group of individuals: promoting the effects of particular bacteria with individual diets or rewiring specific brain networks with personalized rehabilitation.