The vision of my laboratory is to treat the brain from the gut. Over the last decade we established the neural basis for how gut feelings about nutrients guide appetitive choices. Our initial focus was sugar. Animals distinguish sugars from non-nutritive sweeteners even in the absence of sweet taste. The hidden sugar sense appeared to reside in the gut, but the cells and neural circuits were unknown. In 2018, our laboratory discovered a neural circuit linking the gut to the brainstem in one synapse. The neural circuit is formed between neuropod cells in the gut and the vagus nerve. This neural circuit is essential to convey sensory cues from sugars. In 2020, we discovered that animals rely on neuropod cells to distinguish sugars from non-caloric sweeteners. For this discovery, we collaborated with Prof. Polina Anikeeva to develop a new generation of tools to use optogenetics and other neural tools to interrogate the contribution of visceral sensors to behavior. Much like the brain relies on retinal cone cells to see color, gut neuropod cells help the brain’s choose sugar over non-caloric sweeteners.
I am a neuroscientist recognized for the discovery of a neural circuit that serves as the basis of gut brain sensory transduction. At Duke University, I lead a research team built with the vision to treat the brain from the gut. Our mission is to dissect gut-brain circuits underlying behaviors to improve health. Beyond the laboratory, I founded Gastronauts Foundation Inc. -a global venue to disseminate knowledge on gut brain matters.
Followed by a reception in the atrium with appetizers and drinks