Scientists of the SmartAge research network, with the participation of the University Hospital Jena, aim to decipher the complex interactions that take place between the brain and the intestine. After all, the intestinal flora is by no means only involved in food processing. Studies have shown that the microbiome in the intestine also controls immune processes and communicates with the brain via signals. Ten European countries are taking part in the research, which is funded by the EU with four million euros.
The totality of all bacteria in the intestine is called intestinal flora or intestinal microbiome. In recent years, this microbiome has become more and more the focus of science and the latest research results have shown that the intestinal flora has a much greater influence on our health than assumed. For example, there is a connection between the brain and the intestine via the so-called intestinal-brain axis, which also seems to influence the aging of the brain.
The state of the intestinal flora seems to influence the overall health and aging of the human being. Although more and more research is being done on this topic, much of the complex interplay is still not understood. It has only been known for a few years that the intestinal flora communicates with the brain via the intestinal-brain axis. According to the latest studies, a damaged microbiome in the intestine is also associated with mental and neurodegenerative diseases.
Science is just beginning to understand these interactions between the digestive and the thinking organs. Recently it was shown that the intestinal flora also plays an important role in the brain’s ability to learn. The European research network SmartAge also sees this as a cause for the age-related decline in cognitive functions. “We are interested in whether and how measures aimed at improving the cognitive abilities of older people also influence the intestinal flora,” explains Professor Otto W. Witte from the research program.
Complex interactions between brain and intestine
“With this knowledge, we want to develop microbiome-based therapies that slow down cognitive function loss in old age,” reports Witte, who is also the spokesperson and coordinator of the network that brings together 16 scientific institutions from ten European countries.
Read also: Building intestinal flora: This is how it works.
The interdisciplinary team from medicine, psychology, life and technical sciences wants to unlock the secrets of the intestinal microbiome using state-of-the-art technology such as high-throughput procedures, imaging methods and systems biology approaches. For example, the effects of a diet with the dietary fiber beta-glucan will be tested, as well as the effect of the diabetes drug metformin on the intestinal-brain axis. In addition, it will be investigated what effect sport and exercise have on the intestinal flora and how the microbiome influences biological brain age. (vb)
Intestinal-brain axis: Interaction of digestive and mental organs
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