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NIMH to Fund Studies of How Gut Microbiome Affects Brain Development, Function

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institute of Mental Health will award up to $1 million next fiscal year to fund studies of the ways the human gut microbiome may impact brain development and may be involved in mental health and disorders, NIMH said today.

NIMH's aim is to take advantage of the knowledge and findings that have come out of the Human Microbiome Project to investigate how the gut microbiome modulates the development and function of brain circuits. Metagenomics and other tools developed under the HMP are being used to assess microbiota at the genetic level, and also may be used to study the functional implications of the microbiome, NIMH said.

The institute wants to fund efforts that use this knowledge and these tools to investigate the gut microbiome-brain axis and to establish its role in mental health and mental disorders. The relationship between the gut microbiome and the brain is thought to be bi-directional, with each system having effects on the other, and rodent studies have suggested that the microbiota can influence brain development, neurotransmitter systems, signaling pathways, synaptic related proteins, and behavior. NIMH said it is particularly interested in supporting research into communication from the gut microbiota to the brain.

Investigators may propose cellular, molecular, and physiological studies to identify how the gut microbiota modulates neural circuits involved in functions like memory, higher-level executive function, and others; mechanistic studies of the role of the gut-microbiome-brain axis in pre-and postnatal development; studies that map the developmental trajectories of the effects of the gut microbiota on neural systems; efforts to examine the mechanisms by which perturbations of an offspring's gut microbiota affect brain function and behavior, and others.

NIMH said it plans to provide up to $175,000 for exploratory and developmental phase I projects and no more than $500,000 for phase II studies.