Keith Sharkey


Physiology & Pharmacology


Crohn's & Colitis Canada Chair

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research

Full Member

Hotchkiss Brain Institute



Contact information


Office: 403.220.4601

Web presence



Office : HSC2035

Research and teaching

Research areas

  • Stress
  • Enteric nervous system
  • Gut-brain
  • Cannabinoids
  • Glia
  • Autonomic nervous system

Research activities

My research activities are focused on understanding the physiology and pathophysiology of the neural control of the gastrointestinal tract and brain-gut interactions in health and inflammatory bowel disease. The overarching hypothesis that guides my lab, supported by a CIHR Foundation grant, is that enteric nerves and glia synergistically interact to maintain intestinal homeostasis and perturbations in their function lead to GI disease. Digestion becomes impaired when there are abnormalities in the control of GI motility and/or a breakdown in the intestinal barrier function. This program has two main aims:

Aim 1. To understand how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates GI motility and intestinal barrier function in health and disease. Endocannabinoids are key molecules in the control of gut function, but their physiology remains to be fully determined. Moreover, how this system is altered in disease remains poorly understood and our lab is seeking to better understand how GI inflammation alters the ECS.

Aim 2. To establish the physiology of the enteric nervous system in the control of motility and intestinal barrier function. How enteric nerves, enteroendocrine cells and the enteric microbiota interact with enteric glia in order to effect regulatory control of motor and barrier function remains to be fully understood. Our lab is examining these issues using state-of-the-art approaches including live cell imaging and molecular genetics. 

In addition, my lab is part of two collaborative teams based at U of C funded by CIHR. With Quentin Pittman (PI) and Matt Hill we are studying the role of the ECS in comorbid anxiety in colitis. With Mark Swain (PI), Quentin Pittman, Brad Goodyear and others we are studying the impact of peripheral inflammation of the colon, liver and knee joints on brain changes that lead to behavioral alterations including anxiety, depression and fatigue.