Report: Mind, Mood & Microbes 2023

300 participants from across the world joined the 4th meeting of The International Conference on Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis which took place in the heritage-listed KIT Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam on May 10-11, 2023.

During the meeting, 24 talks were given in six symposia. These sessions were dedicated to neurodevelopment, neurological and psychiatric disorders, molecular mechanisms, and emerging topics and technologies. A large number of talks were presented by early and middle-career researchers who reported on their ongoing, unpublished projects. Of note, new research has implicated the gut microbiota in the regulation of the choroid plexus barrier, an important tissue involved in cerebrospinal fluid production and immune cell infiltration into the brain, presented by both Dr Maria Rodriguez Aburto of APC Microbiome Ireland and Dr Roos Vandenbroucke of Ghent University.

The meeting included a roundtable session where researchers took part in topical small-group discussions aimed at identifying challenges and future directions in the field of microbiota-gut-brain axis research. In the session titled “Biological Pathways and Molecular Mechanisms” the key points discussed included the need for more longitudinal work, as well as the increasing importance of including functional assessment (usually in the form of metabolomics) alongside taxonomic analysis of microbiota samples. Further, there is increasing recognition that temporality is an important factor in studies of microbiota-gut-brain axis function: This was discussed both during the roundtable session and by Dr Thomaz Bastiaanssen of APC Microbiome Ireland, who presented a new analysis tool “Kronos” designed to assess biological rhythms using complex statistical designs in large datasets. Additionally, several presentations focused on the use of microbiota-targeting therapies that are showing great promise in preclinical and early-phase clinical studies. This includes work presented by Dr A Stewart Campbell from Axial Therapeutics, where a Phase II clinical trial is currently underway assessing irritability and anxiety in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder following the administration of a gut metabolite sequestrant.

The first keynote presentation was given Professor Felice Jacka from Deakin University titled “Nutritional Psychiatry and the Potential of Gut-Focused Therapies for Mental Health” where she advocated for a more holistic approach to mental health, incorporating diet and lifestyle as important aspects of patient care in the context of neuropsychiatric disease. The second keynote lecture was performed by Professor Jonathon Kipnis from Washington University in St Louis where he discussed recent work from his group interrogating the role of the meninges in brain function.

The meeting was concluded with a screening of the documentary “The Invisible Extinction” which highlights how the modern medical and food environments are disrupting human gut microbiota composition and function.

By Sarah-Jane Leigh, Irish Society Of Gastroenterology (Neurogastroenterology & Motility section)

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