Livia Hecke Morais, PhD


Livia Hecke Morais, PhD

Name of Institution:

California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA

Project Title:

Microbial-brain Interactions in Parkinson’s disease Neurodegeneration

Investigator Bio:

Dr. Hecke Morais received her Masters degree from Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil and completed her doctoral studies at University College Cork in Ireland. In 2018, Dr. Hecke Morais joined the Mazmanian lab in Caltech as a post-doctoral fellow to pursue her research interest in the understanding of gut-brain signaling in Parkinson’s disease (PD).


We will test whether the metabolic products of the gut microbiome of PD can affect vulnerability of dopamine neurons, ultimately leading to motor dysfunction and neuronal death.


Research has shown that the microbiome, the collective body of micro-organisms that live in the gut, influences many aspects of behavior and brain function and can be altered in different disease states, including PD. The Mazmanian laboratory has recently shown that in a mouse model of PD, the microbiome has been linked to motor deficits, inflammation and increased α-synuclein pathology. Transferring the microbiome from patients with PD into a germ-free mouse can induce increased motor dysfunction. The details of how this happens however, are not understood.


We will use a well-established mouse model of PD, an α synuclein overexpressing mouse, and colonize them with the microbiome from PD patients and matching healthy controls. We will then investigate whether specific genetic profiles or metabolic byproducts of the microbiome are associated with worsened motor function. The project will also look at whether the gut microbiome impacts brain energy use by interfering with the mitochondria, or the specialized structure of the cell that creates energy.

Relevance to Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s disease:

Understanding the relationship between gut bacteria and disease can help to design novel therapies that manipulate gut bacteria for the treatment of PD.