The VagaLAB – Neuroscience and epidemiology of gut-brain communication

Research group
Active research
Project owner
Institutionen för neurovetenskap och fysiologi

Short description

The gut and the brain are in constant communication. And the gut doesn’t just listen. It talks back.
Our research group aims to understand how this gut-brain communication contributes to the control of metabolism and behavior. We expect to identify novel risk factors and treatments for metabolic and mental disorders.

Our overarching goal

The overarching goal of our research group is to delineate how gut-brain communication, notably via the vagus nerve, contributes to the control of metabolism and behavior. With this research, we expect to identify novel risk factors and to design innovative treatments for metabolic and mental disorders.

Our focus: the vagus nerve, a gut-brain communication highway

The vagus nerve is a long structure that wanders from the base of the brain down to the viscera. Along the way, it touches many other organs, including the gut. Within the vagus nerve, long sensory neurons called “vagal afferent neurons” can sense signals generated in the gut and send these signals to the brain.

Classically, vagal afferent neurons are known to play a crucial role in the control of appetite. Their stimulation by gut hormones and stretch inform the brain that we have eaten sufficient food, thus generating a sensation of fullness.

Recently, however, rodent studies implicated vagal afferent neurons in many additional functions, ranging from memory, food reward and anxiety.

Our questions

  • Which metabolic and behavioral functions are influenced by vagal gut-brain communication?
  • What are the underlying neuronal circuits?
  • How do physiological or disease states affect gut-brain communication?
  • Is a failure in gut-brain communication a risk factor for metabolic and mental disorders?

Our approaches

Our group uses two complementary approaches:

1/ We conduct neuroscience studies in rodents. Our group uses unique manipulations of vagal circuits (selective lesions, chemogenetic, optogenetic) and combine them with cutting-edge metabolic and behavioral assessments. We use circuit mapping, transcriptomics and fiber photometry to investigate the central relays of vagal inputs.

2/ We conduct epidemiological studies in Human cohorts. Our group notably uses nationwide cohorts to detect associations between the (dys)function of the vagus nerve and metabolic or mental disorders. We therefore assess the relevance of our preclinical findings in Humans and test the hypothesis that gut-brain communication is a underestimated risk factor for multiple diseases.

Interested in joining us?

Our group started in 2022 and we are looking for new talents to join us at all levels! Get in touch by e-mail (!

Group members

Jean-Philippe Krieger, group leader
Cornelia Richter, master student