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The role of the diet in affecting neurocognition and mood through effects on the production of neuromodulators by the intestinal microbiome (Ref: SF20/APP/FORD)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

About the Project

Bacteria can produce metabolites that have a neuromodulatory function or direct neuroactive properties. The best-studied examples include free fatty acids, which activate microglial cells, and the neurotransmitter GABA. The aim of the project will be to identify novel metabolites secreted by the intestinal microbiome that have neuromodulatory or neuroactive functions and to determine if this is a mechanism through which diet influences neurocognition and mood.
The objectives will be:
• to screen the secretome of the intestinal microbiome for novel neuromodulatory and neuroactive compounds;
o The secretome from an in vitro gut model will be fractionated, screened for active components using cultured neural cells and the most active fractions analysed by mass spectrometry to identify then test directly specific candidate molecules.
• to identify the species in the intestinal microbiome responsible for the production of these compounds;
o Specific species will be tested in the in vitro gut model for capacity to produce molecules identified.
• to determine if dietary components can alter the intestinal microbiome to promote the production and secretion of these novel compounds;
o Published literature will be reviewed to identify associations between the consumption of specific dietary components and prevalence in the intestinal microbiome of the species found to produce the molecules identified to generate hypotheses to test in the in vitro gut model.
• to determine if there are associations between the consumption of foods that promote particular intestinal microbiome compositions and differences in cognitive function or mood.
o A food frequency questionnaire will be used to stratify human participants with respect to level of consumption of relevant dietary components, stool samples will be tested for prevalence of the relevant microbial species and a mood questionnaire will be used to gather data for use to explore correlative relationships between consumption and mood. Selected participants will undergo cognitive testing.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st July for October start, or 1st December for March start
Start Date: October or March
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Informal enquiries to Prof Dianne Ford (

Funding Notes

This project will be self funded – fee bands are available at View Website . A relevant fee band will be discussed at interview based on project running costs


Young GR, van der Gast CJ, Smith DL, Berrington JE, Embleton ND, Lanyon C. Acquisition and Development of the Extremely Preterm Infant Microbiota Across Multiple Anatomical Sites. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2019 [Epub ahead of print]

Kennedy D, Okello E, Chazot P, Howes MJ, Ohiomokhare S, Jackson P, Haskell-Ramsay C, Khan J, Forster J, Wightman E. Volatile Terpenes and Brain Function: Investigation of the Cognitive and Mood Effects of Mentha × Piperita L. Essential Oil with In Vitro Properties Relevant to Central Nervous System Function
Nutrients. 2018 Aug 7;10(8).

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