Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium
Exploring the Strange and Ancient Biology of the Brain Hidden in Our Guts
Subhash Kulkarni, Scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is the second largest collection of neurons and glial cells outside of the brain. It is estimated to contain half a billion neurons and a couple of billion glial cells, which makes it a larger nervous system than the spinal cord. Located entirely within the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, it regulates not only important gut functions – including digestion, absorption, motility of the gut, immunity of the gut, but it also plays a central role in regulation of higher order functions such as satiety and behavior. Given the pivotal nature of the functions it regulates, the ENS in some or the other form has existed in animals long before the need to have a central nervous system, which would regulate higher executive functions, evolved. However, despite playing such a key role in an animal’s ability to survive, we know little about how it develops, how it matures, how it maintains itself in a constantly moving organ full of acids, bases, toxins, and bacteria, and how it is impacted with age. Our work in the last several years has used new and old methods alike to gain better answers to these important questions – not only to satiate our curiosity about this old and relatively unknown nervous system, but also to understand how it is impacted negatively to lead to well-known and little-known diseases.
This program is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Wellness Center, the College Farm, the Food Studies Program and the departments of biology and psychology. This program was initiated by the Clarke Forum’s student project managers.
Biography (provided by the speaker)
Dr. Subhash Kulkarni is a Ph.D. scientist who is currently a faculty member at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. He is also a member of the neurobiology graduate program at Harvard University, where his lab studies the biology of the Enteric Nervous System and the Gut-Brain Axis. Kulkarni was born in India, where he completed his bachelor’s in microbiology, and master’s in biomedical sciences, before completing his Ph.D. thesis work in ecology and evolution at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. After his Ph.D, he did a postdoctoral fellowship in structural biology at Stanford University, where his work helped provide evidence of intermixing of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans in the ancient near-east. After his post-doctoral work in structural biology, Kulkarni did a subsequent post-doctoral fellowship in enteric neurobiology at Stanford, and then subsequently moved to Johns Hopkins University as faculty, where he performed research for 10 years till 2022. Kulkarni moved his laboratory to Harvard in 2023, where his NIH-funded lab studies the biology of the enteric nervous system and the gut-brain axis