Quick Project Snapshot

Gut Health: an intersection of food, environment, animal production and global health

Program Leaders: Dr Brid Callaghan, Mitchell Ringuet, Prof John Furness, including collaboration with Dr Jeremy Cottrell, Agricultural Science.

Contact: Dr Callaghan: b.callaghan@unimelb.edu.au

Gut health can be defined as a condition in which mucosal function is normal and assimilation of nutrients is not compromised.  When the gut is stressed, there are major effects on the mucosa.  This manifests as a loss of structural integrity, increased mucosal permeability, malabsorption of nutrients, and mucosal inflammation.  In addition to the mucosa, enteric neurons are susceptible to damage when there is stress, particularly oxidative stress, to the intestine.  We have developed a number of models for studying enteric neuropathies associated with inflammation, ischemia/ reperfusion injury and high fat diets (Rivera et al. 2014) and environmental heat (Maseko et al 2014). 

In this study we will use ischemia/ reperfusion (I/R) injury as an acute stress to enteric neurons or a high fat diet regime, which has the hallmarks of accelerated ageing, as a more generalisable, chronic enteric neuronal stress as a screen, to test for drugs that might be used as neuroprotectors when oxidative stress is a factor, for example in intestinal transplant surgery


Rivera LR, Leung C, Pustovit RV, Hunne B, Andrikopoulos S, Herath C, Testro A, Angus PW & Furness JB. Damage to enteric neurons occurs in mice that develop fatty liver disease but not diabetes in response to a high-fat diet. Neurogastroenterol Motil 26, 1188-1199 (2014).

Maseko T, Dunshea FR, Howell K, Cho H-J, Rivera LR, Furness JB & Ng K. Selenium-enriched Agaricus bisporus mushroom protects against increases in gut permeability ex vivo and up-regulates glutathione peroxidase 1 and 2 in hyperthermal-induced oxidative stress in rats. Nutrients 6, 2478-2492 (2014).

Liu, F, Cottrell, JJ, Furness, JB, Rivera, LR, Kelly, FW, Wijesiriwardana, U, Pustovit, RV, Fothergill, LJ, Bravo, DM, Celi, P, Leury, LJ, Gabler, NK, Dunshea, FR:  Selenium and Vitamin E together improve intestinal epithelial barrier function and alleviate oxidative stress in heat stressed pigs. Exp. Physiol. 101, 801-810 (2016)

Systems Neurophysiology

In Systems Neurophysiology we seek to learn how the nervous system controls various bodily functions and how that control is altered in disease. Our disease focus includes not only neurological disorders such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, but also how the nervous system impacts on non-neurological diseases such as heart failure and inflammatory diseases.  A clear understanding of basic mechanisms is crucial in developing better therapies and reducing the impacts of illness. 

All Labs that operate in this Division

Autonomic Neuroscience LaboratoryDigestive Physiology and Nutrition LaboratoryNeurocardiovascular LaboratoryNeurovascular Biology LaboratoryRespiratory Neurophysiology LaboratoryViscerosensory Laboratory