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Brian D. Gulbransen

Brian GulbransenAssistant Professor, Neuroscience Program, Department of Physiology


Research Interests:

Ever think that your gut has a mind of it’s own? Well if you did you’d be right because within your intestines lies a “second brain” called the enteric nervous system. This extensive neural network contains more neurons than the spinal cord and integration within the enteric nervous system controls and coordinates most gastrointestinal functions independent of central nervous system input.

Normal gastrointestinal functions typically go on unnoticed but when enteric nervous system function is compromised, the results are devastating and debilitating to affected individuals. These gastrointestinal motility disorders affect up to 25% of the U.S. population and are one of the most frequent reasons patients seek medical care. Extensive neuron death and synaptic dysfunction within the enteric nervous system are though to underlie altered gastrointestinal motility but the underlying causes of these changes are unknown. To fully understand enteric nervous system function and the changes that occur during disease, we must remember that the enteric nervous system is not only made up of neurons. Within enteric ganglia a unique type of peripheral glia called enteric glia surrounds neurons, similar to the relationship between astrocytes and neurons in the central nervous system. Increasing evidence supports the notion that enteric glial cells are responsible for modulating the function of the enteric nervous system but exactly how enteric glial cells influence the function and survival of enteric neurons are unknown. The goal of our lab is to understand how enteric glial cells influence the function of the enteric neural network and how disruptions in glial function contribute to the common gut motility disorders.

Specific research interests include:

1.) How do enteric glia modulate synaptic transmission in the enteric nervous system?

2.) Do alterations in normal glial regulatory mechanisms contribute to gastrointestinal pathology?

3.) How do glial changes contribute to enteric neurodegeneration?

We utilize several forms of advanced fluorescent microscopy in the lab to investigate these questions including:

  • Calcium imaging of glial and neural activity
  • Voltage-sensitive dye imaging of neural network activity
  • Optogenetic stimulation of specific cell types within the enteric nervous system
  • Fluorescent immunohistochemistry

Educational Background:
University of Wyoming, B.S., 2003, Zoology and Physiology, minor Chemistry, with honors
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Ph.D., 2007, Neuroscience

Selected Professional Activities:
Dr. Gulbransen is an Assistant Profressor in the Neuroscience Program and Department of Physiology at MSU. He is a member of the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society, Society for Neuroscience and the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology.


Search PubMed at the National Library of Medicine:

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Laboratory Trainees:

  • Isola Brown
  • Robert J. Vanderkamp, Undergraduate, Physiology
  • Rebecca Bubenheimer, Undergraduate, Neuroscience