Study made significant strides in understanding the elusive gut-brain connection

Groundbreaking study reveals new insights into human gut-brain connection.


Understanding the neural processes governing the human gut-brain connection has been challenging due to the inaccessibility of the body’s interior. Researchers at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, conducted a groundbreaking study that has made significant progress in understanding the elusive gut-brain connection. This complex relationship has long baffled scientists.

Scientists investigated neural responses to gastrointestinal sensation using a minimally invasive mechanosensory probe by quantifying brain, stomach, and perceptual responses following the ingestion of a vibrating capsule.

The research team successfully had participants swallow a capsule to measure neural responses during gastrointestinal stimulation, providing a novel approach to study this intricate connection. The capsule was developed by Vibrant Ltd. Participants in the study included healthy adult male and female volunteers ages 18-40.

The scientists discovered that the participants could feel the stimulation of the vibrating capsule under two different circumstances: normal and enhanced. Enhanced perceptual precision, quicker stimulation detection, and less variability in reaction time were all observed under the augmented stimulation condition, suggesting the strategy has potential for research in various clinical groups. This represents a big advance because it shows that the unique method for investigating gut sentiments is workable.

The “gastric evoked potential,” a late neural response in particular regions of the brain exclusively generated by capsule stimulation, was also found by the researchers. These neural responses highly correlated with perceptual accuracy and grew in amplitude in accordance with the level of stimulus. The neurological mechanisms driving the gut-brain link can now be measured and understood in new ways thanks to this finding.

Dr. Sahib Khalsa, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist at LIBR and senior author of the study, said, “We were able to localize most of the capsule stimulations to the gastroduodenal segments of the digestive tract using abdominal X-ray imaging. This finding is crucial as it provides a more precise understanding of where these gut-brain interactions are originating.”

“The potential clinical implications for the results of this study are substantial. The vibrating capsule method could transform the clinical approach to disorders of gut-brain interaction, including eating disorders and certain gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or functional dyspepsia.”

“This would provide a much-needed tool for assessing gut sensation in these conditions and could lead to more personalized and effective treatment strategies. It also opens up the possibility of identifying perceptual or biological mediators of successful treatment, which could serve as predictive markers for future therapeutic interventions.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Mayeli, A., Al Zoubi, O., White, E.J. et al. Parieto-occipital ERP indicators of gut mechanosensation in humans. Nature Communications 14, 3398 (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-39058-4
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