Exploring the Gut-Liver Axis


The German Research Foundation (DFG) provides continued funding for Collaborative Research Center 1382 “Gut-Liver Axis  – Functional Circuits and Therapeutic Targets”.

  Researchers of the Collaborative Research Center sitting outside at a wooden table Copyright: © Andreas Schmitter The Center's researchers and their families went for an outing, looking forward to the decision of the German Research Foundation.

Established by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in July 2019 for an initial period of four years, CRC 1382 can now continue its research into the diverse interactions between the intestine and the liver. The DFG approved the application for an extension for another funding period. The spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center is Professor Oliver Pabst, who heads the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Uniklink RWTH Aachen.

“The gut-liver axis refers to the anatomical and functional interplay of the intestine and the liver," explains Pabst. “Physiological processes in the liver have a direct effect on the intestine and vice versa.” An intensive and tightly controlled exchange of cells, metabolites from food and microbiota, and mediators such as cytokines takes place between the two organs. It is essential for maintaining health, but may also contribute to the development and progression of widespread diseases in the intestine and liver.

The molecular and cellular circuits underlying the gut-liver axis are poorly researched. From the beginning, the mission of the CRC was to shed more light on them. The aim now is to be able to develop new molecular and immunological strategies for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. In the first funding period, key elements of the crosstalk between the gut and the liver were characterized. A key focus was on understanding the role of bile acids, which regulate many processes of the gut-liver axis.

Use of Artificial Intelligence Methods

In the second funding period, the research team will investigate the multi-layered functional and structural barriers of the gut-liver axis. “In our projects, we are now investigating cellular, dietary, immunological, and microbial mechanisms that modulate these barriers. A second focus is on investigating dynamic changes within the gut-liver axis,” says Professor Pabst. With respect to the gut microbiome as a key component of the gut-liver axis, the research team aims to provide unique clinical insights and samples from a clinical trial of fecal microbiota transfer in patients with decompensated liver cirrhosis. Technical advancements in the core projects make it possible to create individualized collections of cultured gut microorganisms. Artificial intelligence methods are being used to analyze and interpret imaging data.

In the interdisciplinary research network of the CRC, clinicians and basic researchers from RWTH work closely with partners in Berlin, Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Münster – an ideal starting position to drive further developments in the research field of the gut-liver axis.