Gut Feeling: Vibrating Pill Uncovers Brain’s Response To Signals From GI Tract

Imagine swallowing a tiny vibrating pill that allows researchers to stimulate and measure your gastrointestinal tract in order to study the mysterious connection between your gut and brain. Sound far-fetched? Thanks to a recent pioneering study conducted by scientists at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this is now a reality.

Published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the study provides groundbreaking insights into the complex “gut-brain axis,” the intricate communication network between our digestive system and central nervous system. For years this relationship has bewildered researchers due to the difficulty involved with accessing internal bodily sensations and responses.

“We were able to localize most of the capsule stimulations to the gastroduodenal segments of the digestive tract using abdominal X-ray imaging,” explained Dr. Sahib Khalsa, LIBR psychiatrist, neuroscientist and senior author of the study, in a statement. “This finding is crucial as it provides a more precise understanding of where these gut-brain interactions are originating.”

So how did scientists finally manage to unlock secrets of our second brain? The key was developing a pioneering vibrating capsule, swallowed by participants, that enables gastrointestinal stimulation while recording participants’ perceptual responses. Developers Vibrant Ltd. designed the capsule.

Khalsa’s team conducted the experiment on healthy volunteers ages 18-40. Results showed participants were able to sense capsule vibrations at different intensities, confirming the innovative device delivers stimuli researchers can measure.

“This would provide a much-needed tool for assessing gut sensation in these conditions and could lead to more personalized and effective treatment strategies,” said Dr. Khalsa regarding potential clinical applications. “It also opens up the possibility of identifying perceptual or biological mediators of successful treatment.”

Microbiome and gut health
Scientists gave participants a vibrating pill to swallow to help them better understand the connection between the brain and the gut, also known as the “gut-brain axis.” (© T. L. Furrer –

Specifically, researchers discovered improved stimulation detection speed, accuracy and reaction time variability using enhanced capsule vibrations. This demonstrates the system’s promise for studying gut-brain interactions in patient groups with gastrointestinal diseases like IBS or eating disorders.

However, the most exciting finding was identifying newly detected brain activity patterns induced by capsule stimulation. Certain brain regions exhibited neural responses increasing with vibration intensity and correlating to participants’ perceptual accuracy.

“This discovery provides a new way to measure and understand the neural processes governing the gut-brain connection,” explained co-first author and LIBR postdoctoral scholar Dr. Obada Al Zoubi.

In daily life, these intricate neural networks translate into what we call “gut feelings” – emotional intuitions that seemingly arise from our stomachs and intestines. Scientists theorize guts instincts evolved long before complex rational thought, when primitive reactions to digestive cues meant the difference between life and death.

Yet in modern society, chronic stress can trigger gastrointestinal disorders by disrupting this critical mind-gut dialogue. That’s why unraveling the biological basis of gut feelings holds such profound medical potential.

“The vibrating capsule method could transform the clinical approach to disorders of gut-brain interaction, including eating disorders and certain gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or functional dyspepsia,” noted Khalsa.

The LIBR study represents the first safe, non-invasive technology enabling controlled gastrointestinal stimulation with simultaneous brain imaging. This opens entirely new research avenues previously impossible with animals or complex procedures requiring surgically implanted devices.

Co-first author and former LIBR PhD student Dr. Ahmad Mayeli emphasized how the vibrating capsule system provides “a much-needed tool” for assessing real-time perceptual responses to gut sensations in humans – a missing link impeding research. This promises more personalized, biologically-based therapies targeting problematic miscommunications along the gut-brain axis.

So what lies ahead on our journey towards mastering “gut feelings”? The LIBR research team plans further studies investigating applications for gastrointestinal, eating and stress-related disorders. They also aim to identify bio-markers predicting patient responses to treatments influencing gut-brain interactions.

For now, Khalsa’s group has brought researchers one step closer toward illuminating the deep neural connections between our “second brain” and our everyday emotions. Perhaps someday, swallowing specially-designed vibrating pills to optimize gut feelings and health will be common practice. After all, even pioneers start with a single capsule.

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Steve Fink

Steve Fink is the Editor-in-Chief of, and He is formerly the Vice President of News Engagement for CBS Television Stations’ websites, and spent 20 years with CBS.

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