Keith Sharkey

Dr. Keith A. Sharkey




Cumming School of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

Full Member

Hotchkiss Brain Institute

Full Member

The Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases

Contact information

Web presence

Phone number

Office: +1 (403) 220-4601


Office: HSC2037
Lab: HSC2076

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Educational Background

BSc (Hons) Nutrition, University of London, 1981

Doctor of Philosophy Physiology, University of Liverpool, 1985


Keith Sharkey was educated at the University of London (B.Sc. Hons., Nutrition) and the University of Liverpool (Ph.D., Gastrointestinal Physiology).  After postdoctoral training in Hungary, the UK and Canada, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary (1990).  He has remained at the University of Calgary for his academic career and is currently Professor of Physiology & Pharmacology in the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary.  From 2005-2021, Dr. Sharkey held the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research.

Dr. Sharkey’s research is focused on understanding the physiology and pathophysiology of the neural control of the gastrointestinal tract and brain-gut interactions in health and disease.  His current interests include studies of the role of the enteric nervous system in GI pathophysiology and the endocannabinoid system of the gut brain axis.  He has published over 260 original peer-reviewed research articles, and reviews. For his contributions to gastrointestinal sciences, he was elected as a Fellow of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.



Areas of Research

Enteric nervous system
Gut-brain axis
Endocannabinoid system
Research Program

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 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (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.  With the labs of Quentin Pittman (PI) and Matt Hill at U Calgary, we are studying the role of the ECS in comorbid anxiety in colitis (funded by CIHR). With the labs of Christophe Altier (U Calgary) and Aaron Gruber (PI, U Lethbridge) we are studying the therapeutic potential of non-psychotropic cannabinoids in pain, inflammation and depression (funded by Alberta Innovates).

Participation in university strategic initiatives


Course number Course title Semester
MDSC 569.02 The gut-brain-microbiota axis: redefining mammalian physiologgy Fall 2022
MDSC 619.02 Neuroscience II - Systems neuroscience and neuropathology Winter 2023


  • Cumming School of Medicine’s van de Sande Distinguished Achievement Award for Mentorship, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. 2021
  • Distinguished Research Award, Gastrointestinal & Liver Physiology Section, American Physiological Society. 2021
  • Finkelstein Award for Excellence , Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. 2016
  • Fellow , Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. 2015
  • Fellow, Canadian Association of Gastroenterology. 2015
  • Killam Annual Professor Award, University of Calgary. 2013
  • Faculty of Medicine “Smith” Distinguished Achievement Award for Senior Faculty, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. 2012
  • Research Leadership Award, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. 2009

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