Environmental influences

Influence of psychosocial environmental factors on the brain-gut-microbiome axis in disease and health.

Psychosocial, cultural and environmental challenges, such as adverse childhood experiences, acculturation, neighborhood safety, family environment, and socioeconomic status heighten stress-related biological and behavioral pathways that increase the vulnerability to disease-promoting behaviors. Adverse experiences and stress influence brain development through epigenetic mechanisms, thereby increasing the vulnerability to develop clinical symptoms and diseases later in life.

Our data has shown that neuroplastic remodeling within the brain-gut microbiome could further increase the risk of individuals with a history of early life adversity towards altered ingestive behaviors, but on the other hand protective factors such as resilience and exercise can have a positive influence in the brain-gut microbiome axis, thus helping to protect against further disruptions leading towards disease.

Only a subgroup of individuals with a history of adversity or chronic stress (during childhood and adulthood) develop disease or clinical symptoms. To develop more personalized and effective treatments, it will be important to identify this vulnerable subgroup, the endophenotypes contributing to this subgroup and the psychosocial influences (both adverse and protective) that drive these changes.

Influence of environmental factors such as early life adversity and resilience on the brain and gut markers identify precursors that modulate emotion-arousal circuitry function and structure. This work is particularly relevant for identifying candidate treatments (e.g., pharmacological, behavioral) aimed at improving symptoms in disease.