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Julia Spielbauer

PhD student

The main goal of my project is to decipher the role of the microbiota-gut-brain axis in typical and atypical brain development with a special focus on bacterial motifs called peptidoglycans.

About me

I am PhD student in the Diaz Heijtz Lab, Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. Additionally, I am volunteering as student representative in the student council of NeurotechEU and as a member of the doctoral student association (DSA) at KI.

Research description

Environmental influences during early life can have a profound impact on brain development and later-life structure and function, a phenomenon called “developmental programming.” One such external environmental factor is the gut microbiota that over evolutionary time has adapted to coexist not merely in a commensal (non-harmful coexistence), but rather in a mutual relationship with mammals. There has been mounting evidence of the gut microbiota as one of the key regulators of the microbiota-gut-brain-axis. An important challenge in this new “microbiome-gut-brain axis” field is to understand the precise molecular mechanisms mediating interactions between gut microbes and the brain. In our lab we discovered a new potential signaling pathway mediated by peptidoglycans (PGNs), a component of the bacterial cell wall. PGNs can be recognized by peptidoglycan-sensing molecules, which are part of the innate immune system, but also highly expressed in the developing brain (Arentsen et al., 2017, Molecular Psychiatry). The overarching goal of my project is to investigate the influence of gut-derived microbial molecules, such as “bacterial motifs” and their sensing molecules on brain development and behavior. Furthermore, I wish to explore whether bacterial-derived molecules, such as PGNs, play a role in the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by using an idiopathic mouse model of this disorder.