The realization that symbionts contribute to normal development of the vertebrate nervous system raises the possibility that many host neurodevelopmental mechanisms may be modulated by unknown symbiont-derived factors. Research in my laboratory uses zebrafish to investigate the intersection between these extrinsic symbiont-derived factors and intrinsic host mechanisms. Our primary focus is learning how information about host-associated microbes is transmitted to the developing brain, whether distinct microbial molecular mechanisms modulate different aspects of brain development, and whether microbial modulation of brain development feeds back to influence the host-associated microbes that are so important for host health.
Symbionts and their hosts have myriad effects on one another, at least some of which are mediated via the host nervous system, and most of which we are just beginning to appreciate. Working with colleagues, we have shown that the zebrafish nervous system that impacts the intestinal tract significantly influences the intestinal microbial community, and that host-associated microbes are required for normal development of the zebrafish brain and behaviors, for example social interactions.
Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems
University of Oregon, Eugene, Institute of Neuroscience