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MSU’s Brian Gulbransen awarded distinguished lectureship

By Mollie Newman

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What’s all the fuss about glia? Until recently, little was known about these specialized cells in the human gut, but they are turning out to be valuable to human health. Michigan State University researcher Brian Gulbransen and his lab are making new discoveries about glial cells that may lead to better treatments for a collection of disorders known as “disorders of gut-brain interaction,” which affects roughly 40 percent of people. The most common example of this type of disorder is irritable bowel syndrome.

Headshot of Brian Gulbransen wearing a brown plaid shirt.

MSU Research Foundation Professor Brian Gulbransen is the 2023 recipient of the Raj and Prem Goyal Lectureship from the American Physiological Society and the Gastrointestinal & Liver Section in recognition of his exemplary contributions of research in physiology in understanding the mechanism and treatment of gastrointestinal and liver diseases. Credit: Harley J. Seeley

Gulbransen, an MSU Research Foundation Professor in the Department of Physiology and a member of MSU’s Neuroscience Program, has been selected for an American Physiological Society (APS) Distinguished Lectureship with the award of the Raj and Prem Goyal Lectureship in Pathophysiology of Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. The award, offered by APS and the Gastrointestinal & Liver section, recognizes exemplary contributions of research in physiology in understanding the mechanism and treatment of gastrointestinal and liver diseases. Associate professors or recently promoted full professors who are APS members are eligible to apply.

“It is wonderful that Professor Gulbransen has been recognized with this highly prestigious award,” said NatSci dean Phil Duxbury. “He is a distinguished researcher, teacher and leader working on understanding  neuroinflammation of the enteric nervous system and its implications for gut function and gastrointestinal motility disorders. He is also effective at communicating the science of gastrointestinal health to broader audiences and is a very collaborative and inspiring member of the MSU health sciences community.”

The honor is particularly meaningful for Gulbransen, as Raj Goyal’s work in pioneering mechanisms of neuromuscular transmission in the gut has guided much of his career.

“These lectureships are major national awards and highlight some of the best in their respective areas,” Gulbransen said. “To have my field of study highlighted by this award is also important because it brings increased attention to enteric glia, raises awareness, and invigorates research in this area. Times like these make you think that you must have done something right along the way.”

On June 13, as part of the content of the American Physiology Summit, Gulbransen, will discuss “The magic and mystery of enteric glia.” In his lecture, he will talk about the enteric nervous system, which controls gastrointestinal functions and alterations to enteric neurocircuitry that contribute to common diseases. He will focus on enteric glia, the cellular partners of enteric neurons, and how they contribute to normal gut functions and disease processes.

The Gulbransen Lab specializes in the study of intercellular communication between neurons, glia, and immune cells. Their recent research shows how glia communicate with each other, neurons, and immune cells. As they uncover the significant role of enteric glia as regulators of many gut processes, they are optimistic that these findings could lead to new treatments for the disorders of gut-brain interaction.

“I am immensely grateful to my peers for their support of our work,” Gulbransen said. “It is a major honor to have our work considered as an exemplary contribution to research in mechanisms of gastrointestinal disease. This is something that we strive for in my group and it means a great deal to me to know that we are on the right track. I hope that our contributions help to keep moving the field forward and eventually lead to more effective therapies for people suffering from gastrointestinal disease.”

Gulbransen will be giving his lecture on June 13, at 11:00 a.m. EST.

Banner image: A single ganglion (collection of neurons and glia) from the myenteric plexus of the mouse colon enteric nervous system. Enteric neurons are shown in blue and enteric glia are shown in yellow. Credit: Gulbransen lab