The large intestine of the mammalian gastrointestinal tract contains trillions of microorganisms, an amount ten times greater than the total number of cells in the body. This diverse group of symbiotic bacteria, called the gut microbiome, is critical for mammalian survival and exerts a surprisingly powerful influence on the brain and behavior. Our lab has previously shown that disrupting the gut microbiome via antibiotic administration reduces aggressive behavior in a sex-specific manner (Sylvia et al. 2017, Brain, Behavior and, Immunity). While these findings suggest that altering the gut microbiome affects aggressive behavior and its underlying physiological processes differently in males and females, the specific mechanisms that drive these sex differences in aggression have yet to be explored. The goal of this project is to investigate whether gut dysbiosis alters circulating and neural hormone profiles and the morphology of microglia, immune cells in the central nervous system that have been implicated in neurological diseases, in male and female hamsters and whether these physiological changes culminate in shifts in aggressive behavior.
This project is being conducted in collaboration with Demas Lab graduate student Beth Morrison and Lauren Rudolph from Allegheny College.