UCLA receives grant to study gut-brain signaling in youth with anxiety, depression

Bridget L. Callaghan,PhD,  Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center member and assistant professor of psychology at UCLA, was awarded $3,891,851 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study the microbiota-gut-brain axis pathways associated with depression and anxiety in adversity-exposed adolescents.  

Feeding the lonely brain

A new UCLA Health study has found that women who perceive themselves to be lonely exhibited activity in regions of the brain associated with cravings and motivation towards eating especially when shown pictures of high calorie foods such as sugary foods. The same group of women also had unhealthy eating behaviors and poor mental health.

Arpana Church, PhD, a researcher and co-director of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, wanted to research the negative impacts of loneliness, especially as people continue to be working remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the brain interplays with social isolation, eating habits, and mental health. While it is established that obesity is linked to depression and anxiety, and that binge eating is understood to be a coping mechanism against loneliness, Gupta wanted to observe the brain pathways associated with these feelings and behaviors.

Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut - Now Streaming on Netflix

Delve into the digestive system with this lighthearted and informative documentary that demystifies the role gut health plays in our overall well-being. Dr. Arpana Church, co-director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, provides expert commentary in this Netflix documentary that aired April 26. Stream it today!

Elizabeth Volkmann, MD, MS, honored by American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI)

Dr. Volkmann, associate professor in the UCLA Division of Rheumatology, the founder and co-director of the UCLA Connective Tissue Disease-Related Interstitial Lung Disease (CTD-ILD) Program, and the director of the UCLA Scleroderma Program, was one of three UCLA physician-scientists among its 2024 Early Career Awardees. She received the Young Physician-Scientist Award (YPSA) which recognizes physician-scientists who are early in their first faculty appointment and have made notable achievements in their research. 

The keto diet protects against epileptic seizures. Scientists are uncovering why

The high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet is more than just a trendy weight-loss tactic. It has also been known to help control seizures in children with epilepsy, particularly those who don’t respond to first-line anti-seizure medications. In a new UCLA study published in the journal Cell Reports, researchers demonstrate that changes to the human gut microbiome associated with the ketogenic diet can confer protection against seizures in mice. Understanding how microbiome function is altered by diet could aid in the development of new therapeutic approaches that incorporate these beneficial changes while avoiding certain drawbacks of the diet, said the study’s lead author, Gregory Lum, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Hsiao’s laboratory. Dr. Hsiao, director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, was senior author on the study. 

Elaine Y. Hsiao, PhD, named among world’s most influential researchers

Dr. Hsiao, director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, was one of 40 UCLA faculty members named among the world’s most influential researchers in the sciences and social sciences. The Highly Cited Researchers list, compiled annually by analytics firm Clarivate, identifies scholars whose work has most often been cited in papers published by other researchers in their fields over the past decade. Those named to the 2023 list have authored studies that rank in the top 1% worldwide in scholarly citations. 

Paul S. Weiss, PhD, named to National Academy of Inventors

Dr. Weiss was one of three UCLA professors to have been chosen as a 2023 fellow by the National Academy of Inventors. Election to an academy fellowship is the highest professional distinction awarded to inventors. Dr. Weiss holds the UC presidential chair in chemistry and leads an interdisciplinary research group at UCLA that studies the atomic-scale properties of surfaces and supramolecular assemblies. He is a member of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center and the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

The Brain-Gut Connection with Emeran A. Mayer, MD, premieres on PBS stations

This documentary takes viewers on a journey of discovery, revealing how the interconnectivity between the brain, body and gut affects physical and mental well-being. Dr. Mayer brings his 40 years of clinical experience and cutting-edge research to this innovative health special presented by Detroit Public TV, premiering on PBS stations beginning Friday, November 24. 

Findings suggest that human commensal gut microbes have distinct evolutionary histories

Demographic inference provides an understanding of pre-historical events, such as migrations, contractions and expansions. Additionally, demographic inference enables the ability to detect selection by providing an expectation of genetic diversity under neutral conditions. Inference of the demographic histories and selective effects of human gut commensal microbiota over the course of human history published in bioRxiv suggest that some species in North American microbiomes display contractions in population size and others expansions, potentially occurring at several key historical moments in human history over the past 1,000 to 100,000 years. Nandita Garud, PhD, assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was co-senior author.

The social microbiome: Gut microbiome diversity and abundance are negatively associated with sociality in a wild animal

The gut microbiome has a well-documented relationship with host fitness. Greater microbial diversity and abundance of specific microbes have been associated with improved fitness outcomes. Intestinal microbes also may be associated with patterns of social behaviour. However, these associations have been largely studied in captive animal models; we know less about microbiome composition as a potential driver of individual social behaviour and position in the wild. In this study published in Royal Society Open Science, Daniel T. Blumstein, PhD, and colleagues highlight a potentially consequential relationship between microbial composition and social behavior in a wild social animal.

A mother mouse needs a diverse gut microbiome to form a healthy placenta

The bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract do a lot more than help digest food. Scientists have established that these microbial communities are also involved with the immune system and play a role in mental health. Now, they can add helping grow a healthy placenta during pregnancy to the list of unexpected ways the gut microbiome influences health and well-being. New research led by UCLA scientists and published today in the journal Science Advances shows that mice with depleted gut microbiomes had smaller placentas than normal mice and that the network of blood vessels between the placenta and the fetus was also less developed. “The gut microbiome affects many aspects of host physiology, and more and more evidence is suggesting that it begins to exert its influence even during prenatal life,” said senior author Elaine Hsiao, PhD, director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center.

Discrimination alters brain-gut ‘crosstalk,’ prompting poor food choices and increased health risks

People frequently exposed to racial or ethnic discrimination may be more susceptible to obesity and related health risks in part because of a stress response that changes biological processes and how we process food cues. Arpana Gupta, PhD, co-director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, was interviewed on the study that directly examined the effects of discrimination on responses to different types of food as influenced by the brain-gut microbiome system.

Published research shows the critical link between oral health and the brain

Periodontitis-related oral microbial dysbiosis is thought to contribute to Alzheimer's disease (AD) neuroinflammation and brain amyloid production. Since probiotics can modulate periodontitis/oral dysbiosis, this study examined the effects of a probiotic/lantibiotic, nisin, in modulating brain pathology triggered by periodontitis. Yvonne Hernandez-Kapila, DDS, PhD, UCLA Felix and Mildred Yip Endowed Chair in Dentistry, et al published Nisin a probiotic bacteriocin mitigates brain microbiome dysbiosis and Alzheimer's disease-like neuroinflammation triggered by periodeontal disease in Journal of Neuroinflammation

Published research suggests association between disadvantaged neighborhoods and cortical microstructure and their relation to obesity

You are what you eat, according to the adage. But it’s not just the body that’s impacted. According to newly published research in Nature, living in a disadvantaged neighborhood can affect food choices, weight gain and even the microstructure of the brain. UCLA GI authors include Lisa A. Kilpatrick, PhD, associate researcher; Tien S. Dong, MD, PhD, assistant clinical professor of medicine; Jennifer S. Labus, PhD, adjunct professor of medicine; Bruce D. Naliboff, PhD, project scientist; Emeran A. Mayer, MD, director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience; and Arpana Gupta, PhD, co-director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center.

COVID lockdowns altered babies' microbiomes

Babies born during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic have a different composition of gut microbes compared with those born before the introduction of lockdowns in March 2020, according to a handful of studies investigating the effects of pandemic control measures on infant health. Bridget Callaghan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, and member of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, was an author on this Nature article.

Dedication of Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center and Courtyard

On September 18, 2023, the division hosted a celebration to dedicate the Donald & Andrea Goodman / Meyer and Renee Courtyard at Geffen Hall. The reception commemorated the launch of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center and honored the philanthropic families who made it possible. The groundbreaking center was established thanks to the generous commitment of $20 million from Donald and Andrea Goodman, and Meyer and Renee Luskin. The evening included health sciences leadership Johnese Spisso and Dr. John Mazziotta and remarks from Dr. Eric Esrailian, Dean Steven Dubinett, Dr. Elaine Y. Hsiao, the center’s inaugural director, as well as the visionary donors themselves.

A mother's stress may change the makeup of her child's microbiome

Research looked at the impact of adversity experienced by women that, in some cases, occurred even before their child was conceived. When it comes to microbiome health, many people focus on the foods that will help the trillions of good bacteria in their guts thrive. But less is known about how other factors like stress and trauma influence our gut health. A provocative study suggests that a mother’s stress may leave a lasting scar on future generations by impacting the makeup of her child’s gut microbiome. “Adversity tends to get under the skin,” said Bridget Callaghan, PhD, the study’s senior author, assistant professor of psychology, and member of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center. “And this is yet another way we see adversity impacting individuals’ physiology.”

The gut feeling

The Spring 2023 issue of U Magazine, the alumni magazine for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, features three stories on the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center researchers and donors.

  • On page 17, spotlights research by Arpana Gupta, PhD, co-director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, indicating that sex-specific brain signals that appear to confirm that different drivers lead men and women to develop obesity.
  • On page 20, Elaine Hsiao, PhD, De Logi Professor of Biological Sciences and director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, is interviewed about the new center and how it will advance microbiome research at UCLA.
  • On page 46, Donald and Andrea Goodman and Renee and Meyer Luskin tell the story of the $20 million gift that established and endowed the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center.

Study on how mom's stress impacts children's gut heath featured on KTLA5 Morning News

Bridget L. Callaghan, PhD, spoke with KTLA 5 Morning News about how intergenerational transmission of adversity influences the microbiome across generations. Dr. Callaghan is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, director of the Brain and Body Lab at UCLA, and member of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center.

Hardship affects the gut microbiome across generations

This study draws on a large longitudinal cohort to demonstrate that adversity experienced prenatally or during early childhood, as well as adversity experienced by the mother during her childhood, impacts the gut microbiome of second-generation children at two years old. Notably, some of the microbiome profiles linked to these types of adversity, especially at higher taxonomic levels, were similar to those associated with the child’s current and future socioemotional functioning. Additionally, microbes uniquely associated with adversity exposures or socioemotional functioning have similar immune-related functions within the gut, highlighting the need for further research into how generational adversity affects the gut microbiome’s functional potential. Bridget L. Callaghan, PhD, was senior author on this study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mothers' difficult childhoods impact their children’s mental health

An estimated 40% to 50% of people will experience adversity during childhood, which can increase the risk for physical and emotional challenges when they grow up. Studies show that parents who faced difficult situations in their childhood may pass on some of those risks to their children. However, the way this intergenerational transmission of risk occurs is not well understood. In a recent study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Jessica Uy, PhD, and Bridget L. Callaghan, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues sought to understand how trauma gets passed from one generation to the next. They discovered that when mothers experience adversity in their childhood, it can negatively impact their mental health during and after pregnancy, which in turn, can affect their children's mental health.

Center research featured on TODAY Show on how brains impact weight gain in men and women differently

This research has huge implications for treatment. Emotion regulation techniques, mood and vulnerability factors for women, which may not be as pertinent variables to highlight when implementing obesity-interventions for men, should be considered.

Gut bacteria may contribute to susceptibility to HIV infection, UCLA-led reseatch suggests

New UCLA-led research suggests certain gut bacteria -- including one that is essential for a healthy gut microbiome – differ between people who go on to acquire HIV infection compared to those who have not become infected

Men and women have different obesity drivers, pointing to the need for tailored interventions

A new study from UCLA researchers finds sex-specific brain signals that appear to confirm that different drivers lead men and women to develop obesity. 

UCLA receives $20 million to establish Goodman–Luskin Microbiome Center

Among the most promising areas of scientific inquiry is the study of the human microbiome and its effect on health. To fuel more rapid progress in this field, Andrea and Donald Goodman and Renee and Meyer Luskin have made a $20 million gift to establish the UCLA Goodman–Luskin Microbiome Center.

Research at the center will focus on the microbiome’s role in disease prevention and the body’s immune response with the goal of developing new treatments for a range of conditions including inflammatory bowel disease; obesity and eating disorders; neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; irritable bowel syndrome; and substance use and psychiatric disorders. There are also gender differences in the microbiome.

“The Goodmans and Luskins have been enduring supporters of UCLA Health’s mission to heal humankind and we are deeply grateful for this visionary gift,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “This is an investment in our distinguished researchers and their ability to find new pathways that advance patient care.”

The microbiome is composed of the microbes — bacteria, fungi, viruses and their genes — that reside in and on our bodies.

Microbial organisms in the human gastrointestinal tract, commonly referred to as the gut, are essential to human development, immunity and nutrition. Autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are all associated with dysfunction in the microbiome.

Scores of investigators at the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and across the campus are working to “fingerprint” the brain and gut microbiome to elucidate the role microbial diversity plays in resistance to disease, and whether lifestyle interventions can reduce the risks for and symptoms of chronic diseases.

“Further study of the relationship between the microbiome and the brain is critical,” said Dr. Steven Dubinett, interim dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Goodmans and the Luskins for their commitment to this innovative field.”

Donald Goodman is the president of Don Lee Farms, a multigenerational family food company he founded in 1982. The company produces food products for the country's top retailers, including Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons. He and his wife, Andrea, have been recognized by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for their longstanding philanthropic efforts, and by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters for their support of scholarships for exceptional high school students in Inglewood, California.

“Renee, Meyer and I have had a friendship that spans back to my childhood,” Donald Goodman said. “Meyer and I later served together on UCLA Health’s Advisory Board for over a decade. His insights and leadership have been an inspiration for me.

“It has been incredible to see the tremendous impact of UCLA’s scientific advances on the health and well-being of so many people. This gift reflects our families’ dedication to fostering innovative research that will continue to enhance health care.”

Renee and Meyer Luskin earned degrees from UCLA in 1953 and 1949, respectively. Meyer Luskin is an industry leader in the business of recycling and processing food waste. In 2011, the couple made gifts to name the UCLA Luskin Conference Center and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Our families have witnessed the profound difference philanthropy makes in research and the development of new treatments,” said Meyer Luskin. “This pioneering center will help scientists expand their knowledge about a wide range of diseases and find cures. For us, this is an investment in the future of medicine.”

Geffen School of Medicine scientists collaborate on microbiome-related research with faculty members from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and the UCLA College divisions of life sciences and physical sciences.

The gift funds a new headquarters in the UCLA Center for Health Sciences to support collaboration among numerous labs and brain-gut investigators engaged in seven focus areas. Elaine Hsiao, UCLA’s De Logi Professor of Biological Sciences, will lead the comprehensive enterprise. In 2022, Hsiao was one of three researchers nationally to be recognized by the New York Academy of Sciences with a Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists.

The gift also funds a fellowship to train and mentor physician-scientists, an early-career research fund to support promising scientists, an endowed chair in brain-gut-microbiome research and an annual symposium — all aimed at fostering a fuller understanding of the brain-gut-microbiome interface and its role in human health.

“The center’s initial focus on brain-gut-microbiome research will build on our existing strengths and advance UCLA’s collaborations with other microbiome research centers across the nation,” said Dr. Eric Esrailian, UCLA’s Lincy Foundation Professor of Clinical Gastroenterology and chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“This is only the beginning, and we appreciate the friendship and generosity of the Goodman and Luskin families as we explore this incredible scientific frontier.”

Everyday experiences of racism can impact your brain-gut microbiome

It’s been proven that experiencing systematic racism negatively affects one’s mental health. But it can also lead to diseases associated with inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune inflammatory disease, according a recent study published in Biological Psychiatry. Dr. Arpana Gupta, one of the study’s authors and co-director of the Microbiome Center, and Dr. Tien S. Dong, another study author and assistant clinical professor of medicine, were interviewed by MSNBC.

UCLA study finds discriminatory experiences affect health of brain, body

A UCLA study found that experiences with racism and discrimination can impact the health of the brain and the body. "Discrimination is not just an issue for a person. It is not just an issue for a community or a racial or ethnic group. It is a public health issue.” Dr. Arpana Gupta is the co-director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center and Dr. Tien S. Dong is a health sciences assistant clinical professor of medicine are interviewed in the Daily Bruin.

How gut bacteria are controlling your brain

Looking after the multitudes of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms living in our guts could help us think better, and even offer new ways of treating mental health conditions. Elaine Hsiao, PhD, director of the Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, provided expert commentary in this BBC article on how gut bacteria are controlling your brain.

Elaine Hsiao, PhD, recipient of 2022 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences named Dr. Hsiao as a laureate of the 2022 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists. The award was created to inspire and encourage young, talented scientist to take risks and push boundaries of science. Three independent juries–one each for life sciences, chemistry and physical sciences and engineering–were composed of some of America’s most distinguished scientists. She will receive $250,000, the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, young faculty-ranked scientists and engineers.

Lin Chang, MD, on Talking Gut with Dr. Jim Kantidakis podcast

Dr. Chang discussed stress and the gut in a recent episode of Talking Gut with Dr. Jim Kantidakis. The conversation covered various topics, from how stress affects the gut from a neurobiological perspective to how stress affects the gut microbiota. Run time for the episode is 1 hour 22 minutes.

Elaine Hsiao, PhD, featured in A World of Women in STEM

Dr. Hsiao is interested in figuring out how our gut microbiomes communicate with our nervous systems. Her lab is exploring and probing the gut-brain connection with the hope that one day, we might be able to treat complex brain disorders not by treating the brain, but by treating our human gut bacteria! 

Jennifer S. Labus, PhD, highlighted in Medicine Innovates series

The Medicine Innovates series published research by Dr. Labus, director of the Integrative Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Core in the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, and Andrea J. Rapkin, MD, UCLA gynecology, on the association between steroid hormones, brain connectivity and provoked vestibulodynia symptoms.

Elaine Hsiao, PhD, selected as the 2022 Early Career Scientist winner of the Innovators in Science Award in gastroenterology

Dr. Hsiao and her lab study the trillions of microbes in the gut microbiota that impact health and disease. They have made discoveries into how the gut microbiome influences the brain and behavior, and are investigating how these microbes communicate with the nervous system, their effects on the nervous system, and how interactions between microbes and the nervous system impact health and disease. Her research offers new insights into the causes and treatments of neurological diseases such as autism and epilepsy. The prize is administered by the New York Academy of Sciences and sponsored by Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Arpana Gupta, PhD, and Tien S. Dong, MD, PhD, awarded 2022 UCLA Innovation Grant

Dr. Gupta, director of the neuroimaging core for the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, and Dr. Dong, assistant clinical professor of medicine, were awarded the 2022 UCLA Innovation Grant by the UCLA Technology Development Group. Drs. Gupta and Dong will be working on a probiotic mixture targeting obesity and food addiction.

Lin Chang, MD, comments on MedScape article

A February 22 Medscape article, Greater intestinal permeability seen with bile acid diarrhea than IBS diarrhea, discusses a recent Gastroenterology study that finds intestinal permeability in IBS showed equivocal results in the comparison of permeability in IBS-D and health. Dr. Chang provided expert commentary.

Could a high-fiber diet help boost cancer survival?

Emeran A. Mayer, MD, director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, provided expert commentary on a study published in Science that explores how diet and the gut microbiome might affect cancer patients' response to immunotherapy. Read Health Day’s article Could a high-fiber diet help boost cancer survival?

Emeran A. Mayer, MD, quoted in Healthline article on the influence of genetics on IBS

In an article on the role genetics may play in the risk of developing IBS, Dr. Mayer spoke to the fact that while there may be a small genetic role in IBS, behavioral and lifestyle factors are more important and can be modified to prevent or address IBS symptoms.

When gut bacteria change brain function

Some researchers believe that the microbiome may play a role in regulating how people think and feel. Emeran A. Mayer, MD provides expert commentary in The Atlantic article.