Laukens team: Intestinal barrier signaling in disease and therapy

Research Field: Preclinical research in gut inflammation

Team leader: Prof. Dr. Debby Laukens

Tel: +32 9 332 20 64


Research topic

Our research unit is rooted in the clinical gastroenterology department of Ghent University Hospital and aims to discern and modulate intestinal and extra-intestinal effects of gut inflammation, driving the identification of new therapeutic targets for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and other gut-driven pathologies such as Parkinsonís disease.

Despite the remarkable progress in modulating inflammatory processes in the gut, exemplified by the expanding drug armamentarium for IBD, these drugs seem to have only limited impact on the natural course of the disease. For example, the occurrence of structural mucosal damage (fibrosis), and the persistent manifestation of neurobehavioral changes in IBD patients remain clinical challenges. Thus, aside from aiming to modulate the inflammatory response in the intestine, we are interested in mechanisms of gut fibrosis and the development of drugs able to prevent or reverse the excess deposition of extracellular matrix. In addition, we focus on tools to modulate neurobehavioral and neurological changes resulting from gut inflammation by studying mechanisms of gut-brain communication.

Rho kinases (ROCK) as therapeutic targets of gut fibrosis, interfering in TGFb- and mechanotransduction-induced profibrotic responses in fibroblasts. (Laukens D in Fibrostenotic Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Springer, 2017)
Tryptophan metabolism at the gut-blood-brain interface: a role in driving inflammation-induced behavioural changes?

Areas of expertise

  • Model systems to study the inflamed bowel
  • Translational medicine - biobank
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
  • Gut fibrosis
  • Gut-brain communication

Technology transfer potential

  • Novel treatment strategies for the management of IBD and Parkinson's Disease
  • Modeling of gut-brain communication

Recent publications

  1. Cleynen I and Laukens D. Cellular diversity in the colon: another brick in the wall.
    Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 16, 391-392. 2019.
  2. Holvoet T, et al. Treatment of intestinal fibrosis in experimental inflammatory bowel disease by the pleiotropic actions of a local Rho kinase inhibitor.
    Gastroenterology. 153, 1054-1067. 2017.
  3. Laukens D, et al. Heterogeneity of the gut microbiome in mice: guidelines for optimizing experimental design to increase reproducibility.
    FEMS Microbiol Rev. 40, 117-32. 2016.
  4. Cleynen I, et al. Inherited determinants of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis phenotypes: a genetic association study.
    Lancet. 387, 156-67. 2016.
  5. Devisscher L, et al. Role of metallothioneins as danger signals in the pathogenesis of colitis.
    J Pathol. 233, 89-100. 2014.

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