Diaz Heijtz Laboratory

Our research interests are centered on understanding the biological basis of neurodevelopmental disorders, with a focus on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Research focus

We use different animal model systems to understand the contribution of genetic factors, impact of early adverse life experience (e.g., stress, infections), and gene-environment interactions on the development of motor, affective and cognitive functions, which are impaired in ADHD and ASD.

We are also interested in exploring the potential clinical utility of microbiome-based therapeutics (e.g., probiotics).

Our work is performed in collaboration with clinicians and psychologists at the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital and Karolinska Institutet Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND). This optimizes the opportunities for iterative translation from basic to clinical research and back to more fundamental mechanistic studies.

Key subjects of interest:

  • Impact of normal gut microbiota on brain development and behavior.
  • Clinical studies of young children at high risk for developing ASD, with special focus on the potential role of the gut microbiota.
  • Role of bacterial peptidoglycan sensing molecules on brain and behavior across the life span.
Illustration of Biological signaling pathways and molecules involved in the microbiota-gut-brain axis
Biological signaling pathways and molecules involved in the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Photo: Rochellys Diaz Heijtz

There are multiple direct and indirect pathways through which gut microbiota may influence the brain, including signals carried by neuronal circuits [e.g., bidirectional vagus nerve-to-brain communication, the enteric nervous system and neuropods; (1)], the production of bacterial fermentation metabolic by-products, such as short chain fatty acids (2), tryptophan metabolites and neurotransmitters (3), release of cytokines by immune cells (4), and gut hormone signaling (5). The gut microbiota has been shown to influence various neurodevelopmental processes such as microglial maturation and function, blood brain barrier formation and integrity, myelination and neurogenesis (7). For more details, see Gonzalez-Santana A, Diaz Heijtz R, Trends Mol Med 2020 08;26(8):729-743.

Group members

Rochellys Diaz Heijtz

Principal researcher

Muzhen Li

Teaching assistant

Sarah Perego

Affiliated to research

Ming Zhao

Research assistant

Selected publications

Bacterial Peptidoglycans from Microbiota in Neurodevelopment and Behavior.
Gonzalez-Santana A, Diaz Heijtz R
Trends Mol Med 2020 08;26(8):729-743

Developmental Signatures of Microbiota-Derived Metabolites in the Mouse Brain.
Swann JR, Spitzer SO, Diaz Heijtz R
Metabolites 2020 Apr;10(5):

Toll-like receptor-4 regulates anxiety-like behavior and DARPP-32 phosphorylation.
Femenia T, Qian Y, Arentsen T, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
Brain Behav Immun 2018 03;69():273-282

Sex-dependent alterations in motor and anxiety-like behavior of aged bacterial peptidoglycan sensing molecule 2 knockout mice.
Arentsen T, Khalid R, Qian Y, Diaz Heijtz R
Brain Behav Immun 2018 Jan;67():345-354

Brief Report: Association Between Autism Spectrum Disorder, Gastrointestinal Problems and Perinatal Risk Factors Within Sibling Pairs.
Isaksson J, Pettersson E, Kostrzewa E, Diaz Heijtz R, Bölte S
J Autism Dev Disord 2017 08;47(8):2621-2627

Genetic Variation in the Dopamine System Influences Intervention Outcome in Children with Cerebral Palsy.
Diaz Heijtz R, Almeida R, Eliasson AC, Forssberg H
EBioMedicine 2018 Feb;28():162-167

The bacterial peptidoglycan-sensing molecule Pglyrp2 modulates brain development and behavior.
Arentsen T, Qian Y, Gkotzis S, Femenia T, Wang T, Udekwu K, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
Mol Psychiatry 2017 02;22(2):257-266

Fetal, neonatal, and infant microbiome: Perturbations and subsequent effects on brain development and behavior.
Diaz Heijtz R
Semin Fetal Neonatal Med 2016 12;21(6):410-417

Host microbiota modulates development of social preference in mice.
Arentsen T, Raith H, Qian Y, Forssberg H, Diaz Heijtz R
Microb Ecol Health Dis 2015 ;26():29719

Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.
Diaz Heijtz R, Wang S, Anuar F, Qian Y, Björkholm B, Samuelsson A, Hibberd ML, Forssberg H, Pettersson S
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2011 Feb;108(7):3047-52

Contact and visit us

Contact information for the Diaz Heijtz laboratory at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

Postal address

Karolinska Institutet
Department of Neuroscience
171 77 Stockholm

Visiting address (visitors, couriers, etc.)

Karolinska Institutet
Biomedicum, D8
Solnavägen 9
171 65 Solna

Delivery address (goods, parcels, etc.)

Tomtebodavägen 16
171 65 Solna

Where to find us

Karolinska Institutet, Biomedicum, Solnavägen 9

Rochellys Diaz Heijtz

Research group leader
C4 Department of Neuroscience