Mind the microbes! Toward an understanding of the human microbiota-gut-brain axis and its potential for promoting mental health


Mental health problems are placing a heavy and continuously growing burden on public health, calling for a resolution. Animal studies and a small number of human studies support the idea that the diverse microbial communities in the intestinal tract (i.e. the gut microbiota) are crucial in supporting optimal brain functioning; the bidirectional microbiota-gut-brain axis provides a paradigm shift with potential for promoting mental health. To evaluate this potential, the proposed research aims to integrate perspectives and frameworks to provide the first steps toward an understanding of the human microbiota-gut-brain axis. The central hypothesis is that gut microbiota are capable of influencing mental health by affecting (psycho)physiological and cognitive processes. This will be tested in 3 studies combining cognitive, (psycho)physiological, epidemiological, microbiological, and (bio)statistical approaches. Data from an existing epidemiological cohort will be combined with novel experimental data 1) to specify which and how gut microbiome parameters are related to mental health outcomes in humans in a large, well-characterized epidemiological cohort 2) to delineate how differences in structural, and experimentally induced changes in the functional human gut microbiota affect the tendency to persist in mental goals or strategies (i.e. cognitive perseveration) and 3) to investigate whether experimentally prompted alterations in afferent and/or efferent activity of the vagal nerve (i.e. forming a direct, physical, link between the intestinal tract and the brain) affect the gut microbiota as well as cognitive perseveration. The proposed work will benefit from and support ongoing dialogue and collaboration with various individuals and organisations (scientific, commercial, clinical, etc.), providing input to optimize knowledge utilization, and result in both answers as well as new questions. Outcomes will impact various scientific disciplines, possibly in addition to clinical settings and product development, and further boost scientific and societal interest in, and understanding of, the link between gut bacteria and mental health.





Dr. L. Steenbergen

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden


Dr. L. Steenbergen


01/10/2018 tot 31/08/2021