Exploring the complex relationship between Nutrition, gUT microbiota and BRain AgING.

The NutBrain Study aims at investigating the association of dietary habits with brain ageing, and their role in modulating the gut microbiota composition, and brain measures as well.

This is a population-based cohort study of community-dwelling adults aged 65 years or more living in Lombardy Region, Italy. At the point of presentation, people are screened for nutritional status and cognitive functions. Socio-demographic characteristics along with lifestyles and dietary habits, medical history, drugs, functional status, and anthropometric measurements are also recorded. Based on the cognitive screening score, a subsample undergoes a clinical evaluation including a neurological examination and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning (both structural and functional). Stool and blood samples for the gut microbiota analysis and for the evaluation of biological markers are also collected.

Eligible participants

The NutBrain study targets people over 65 years old residing in Milan and its province. Participation is free and voluntary and does not require any cost. The eligible population is contacted by means of a letter of invitation, in which people are invited to contact the ITB-CNR by phone to schedule the first visit during which he/she is asked to bring the last instrumental and clinical exams prescribed by their general practitioner. A trained team visits participants at the research facility in their residence town. The clinical examination takes place at the Hospital.

Currently, 640 participants have been screened (mean age 74 years ± 6.5 SD, 59.9% females) and 230 underwent the clinical examination.

Relevance and expected impacts

The NutBrain Study is an innovative study that incorporates modern and advanced technologies (i.e. microbiome and neuroimaging) into the traditional epidemiologic design. The study represents a unique opportunity to address key questions about the role of modifiable risk factors on cognitive impairment, with a particular focus on dietary habits and their association with gut microbiota and markers of the brain-ageing process. These findings will help to encourage and plan lifestyle interventions, for both prevention and treatment, aiming at promoting healthy cognitive ageing.


The study is coordinated by the Institute of Biomedical Technologies – National Research Council (ITB-CNR) of Segrate (MI, Italy) and by the IRCCS Fondazione Istituto Neurologico C. Mondino of Pavia (Italy). The project was approved by the Ethics Committee of Pavia.

The study is funded by the Italian Ministry of Health (GR-2016-02361730730).

The protocol is registered at ClinicalTrials.Gov (NCT04461951).


Federica Prinelli (PI) — Sara Bernini (CO-PI) — Marco Severgnini (UO Leader)

Team Members: Fulvio Adorni, Silvia Conti, Maria Lea Correa Leite, Alfredo Costa, Matteo Cotta Ramusino, Nithiya Jesuthasan, Alfonso Mastropietro, Massimo Musicco, Orietta Pansarasa, Elena Perdixi, Anna Pichiecchio, and Elena Sinforiani

IT Staff to support research activities: Nithiya, Jesuthasan, Aleksandra Soijc and Nicola Losito

Scientific Administrative Staff: Emanuela Gerosa and Gianfranca Lovicu

Illustrations: Stefano Fabbri

The NutBrain study is part of the European PROMED-COG (PROtein enriched MEDiterranean diet to combat undernutrition and promote healthy neuroCOGnitive ageing) Project that aims to better understand how the balance between diet and physical activity could reverse undernutrition during ageing and, ultimately, prevent dementia.


Exploring the relationship between Nutrition, gUT microbiota, and BRain AgINg in community-dwelling seniors: the Italian NutBrain population-based cohort study protocol.
Prinelli F, Jesuthasan N, Severgnini M, Musicco M, Adorni F, Correa Leite ML, Crespi C, and Bernini S.
BMC Geriatrics (2020) 23;20(1):253.

PROtein enriched MEDiterranean diet to combat undernutrition and promote healthy neuroCOGnitive ageing in older adults: The PROMED-COG consortium project. Roisin F. O’Neill, Lorraine Brennan, Federica Prinelli, Giuseppe Sergi, Caterina Trevisan, Lisette C. P. G. M. De Groot, Dorothee Volkert, Stefania Maggi, Marianna Noale, Silvia Conti, Fulvio Adorni, Jayne V. Woodside, Michelle C. McKinley, Bernadette McGuinness,Chris Cardwell, Claire T. McEvoy,

Nutrition Bullettin (2022); 47:356–365.