12 May 2021

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For more information please contact Prof. dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, tel.: +32 16 33 01 47, mail: or Mrs. Boushra Dalile, tel.: +32 16 32 21 93, mail: can apply for this job no later than June 30, 2021 via the online application tool

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

(ref. BAP-2021-384)

Apply before 30 June 2021

The Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS) is an internationally oriented and well-recognized human research lab at KU Leuven, Belgium – a top-ranked historical university in the heart of Europe (30 min to Brussels, 2 hours or less to London, Paris and Amsterdam). In our lab, interdisciplinary research is performed in a friendly atmosphere by a team of researchers, clinicians and students with various levels of experience and backgrounds, united by their fascination by brain-gut axis research in health and disease.

We have recently established an innovative research line integrating state-of-the-art techniques to study the gut microbiota and neurohumoral gut-brain signaling mechanisms with experimental psychology methods and advanced neuroimaging techniques (including fMRI, radioligand PET and combined PET/MR imaging) to unravel the relationship between gut microbiota composition and stress sensitivity and fear learning as affective disorder endophenotypes, as well as the microbiota-gut-brain signaling and neural/neurochemical mediators of this relationship.

By virtue of the integration of LaBGAS within the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID) at KU Leuven (, we are in a unique position to integrate state-of-the-art gastroenterology research with psychology and neuroscience. In addition, we have established a productive network of collaborative research within KU Leuven and abroad. The present project specifically builds on close collaborations with the Laboratory for Digestion and Absorption at TARGID (Prof. Kristin Verbeke), the Raes lab (, a world-renowned bioinformatics and (eco-)systems biology lab at KU Leuven, the Translational MRI and Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging KU Leuven research groups, IMEC, a Leuven-based world-leading R&D hub in digital (health) technologies, the Brain Research of Affective Mechanisms Lab at KU Leuven (, and Tor Wager’s Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at Dartmouth College, USA (

The project is funded by the ERC Consolidator Grant MoodBugs, granted to Prof. Lukas Van Oudenhove, a psychiatrist by training, human brain-gut axis researcher by passion and profession, and head of LaBGAS.

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Do our gut microbes influence our emotions? This sounded far-fetched a decade ago, but rodent research has shown that the gut microbiota causally impacts affective processes. The underlying microbiota-gut-brain signaling mechanisms include the capacity of the microbiota to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) from dietary fiber (DOI: 10.1038/s41575-019-0157-3), and to regulate inflammation. These rodent findings have great potential to identify new modifiable players in the (patho)physiology of affective processes and disorders, which is urgently needed given the stalled revolution in affective science, but human translation is needed to fulfill this potential.

MoodBugs aims to fill this gap by investigating the relationship between the gut microbiota and stress sensitivity and fear learning, two affective endophenotypes, and the microbiota-gut-brain (SCFA, inflammation) and neur(ochemic)al mechanisms underlying it, in an interdisciplinary hypothesis-driven fashion. The project directly builds on two of our key earlier findings.

In a population-based study, we showed a cross-sectional association between a specific microbiota profile (B2 enterotype) and mental well-being (DOI: 10.1038/s41564-018-0337-x). In the present project, we aim to test directionality of this association [WP1], as well as causality of microbiota-affect relationships [WP2] in humans.

In a placebo-controlled trial, we showed that SCFA administration (1 week) attenuates the cortisol response to psychosocial stress (DOI: 10.1038/s41386-020-0732-x). In the MoodBugs project, we aim to test for whom and how SCFA work (at the level of the brain), and to investigate microbiota composition as a predictor of response to SCFA [WP3]. Finally, we aim to test the causal effect of inflammation on stress and fear, a putative mediating role of neuroinflammation in the underlying neural circuitry, and the potential of SCFA to dampen these inflammation-induced effects [WP4].

  • We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated candidate with Master degree; a Medical degree or Master Degree in Biomedical, Psychological, or Neurosciences are preferred.
  • Candidates have a specific and genuine interest in the interaction between neural, psychological and bodily processes as well as in neurosciences, particularly functional brain imaging, and in advanced statistical analyses
  • Besides excellent organizational, experimental research, and analytical skills, the candidate should possess excellent interpersonal skills and communication skills in English, both verbally as well as in academic writing. Willingness to learn Dutch is an asset but not a prerequisite.
  • Besides a strong motivation to work with subjects in a research context, candidates should also have a strong interest in data analysis. Experience with Matlab, SPM, SAS and/or R are an asset but not a prerequisite.
  • PhD in Biomedical Sciences
  • Excellent working conditions: basis: temporary for a specified period
  • Duration of contract: 1-year full-time PhD student position, extendable to 4 year upon positive evaluation
  • As a partner of the Leuven International Doctoral School Biomedical Sciences and YouReCa, we offer you the opportunity to take part in a broad spectrum of activities that are related to training, education and career development.