Gur awarded $3.3M in NIMH R01 grant funding
The National Institute of Mental Health, the lead federal agency for research on mental disorders, has awarded a total of $3.3 million in R01 grant funding to a study on inflammatory abnormalities in the fetal developing brain, which result in long term behavioral changes after birth and into adulthood.
Led by Tamar Gur, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Obstetrics and Gynecology, at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, the study “Prenatal neuroinflammation: maternal microbiome contributions and behavioral consequences,” will provide new insight into how maternal stress causes changes in maternal microbes and these changes are transmitted to the developing brain in utero.
Dr. Gur and researchers in her lab have conducted recent studies which demonstrate that exposure to stress changes the composition of the intestinal microbiota, which is associated with development of stress-induced changes to social behavior, anxiety, and depression.
Dr. Gur’s work builds on mounting evidence which suggests that gut microbes can not only affect neurobiology, but disruption to microbiota homeostasis may influence neurodevelopment in a way that leaves the fetus, then infant, and later, the adult, susceptible to psychopathology.
Dr. Gur says this new study looks at how stress disrupts maternal microbes and alters fetal microglia, resulting in alterations in behavior.
“If we determine how commensal microbes are part of altering fetal neurodevelopment during prenatal stress, it will demonstrate how the microbiome may be a key link between the maternal milieu and adult behavioral changes,” Dr. Gur says.
In addition to this research developing a mechanistic understanding of how stress alters the intrauterine environment and affects the developing nervous system, it could pinpoint a critical window where stress is able to influence and harm the microbiome and the intrauterine environment so interventions can be put in place. Interventions such as the use of prebiotics or probiotics, live microorganisms which improve or restore gut flora, during pregnancy to improve mental health outcomes in offspring.
“Our ultimate goal is to create interventions that benefit both the mother and the developing baby,” Dr. Gur says.
The Gur Lab brings together interdisciplinary teams of experts in immunology, microbiology, psychiatry, molecular biology and the neurosciences to address the connection between stress and the brain, and the mechanisms at work in the transgenerational transmission of mental illness. Dr. Gur also serves as associate director of the Ohio State College of Medicine's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and faculty director of the ASPIRE Medical Research Program, which supports undergraduate students who have been historically underrepresented and historically excluded from the health sciences with mentorship, research experience in world-class laboratories and personal and academic support.