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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

The trillions of microbes in the human gut are known to aid the body in synthesizing key vitamins and other nutrients. But this new study suggests that things can sometimes be more adversarial.

 

Choline is a key nutrient in a range of metabolic processes, as well as the production of cell membranes. Researchers identified a strain of choline-metabolizing E. coli that, when transplanted into the guts of germ-free mice, consumed enough of the nutrient to create a choline deficiency in them, even when the animals consumed a choline-rich diet.

 

This new study indicate that choline-utilizing bacteria compete with the host for this nutrient, significantly impacting plasma and hepatic levels of methyl-donor metabolites and recapitulating biochemical signatures of choline deficiency. Mice harboring high levels of choline-consuming bacteria showed increased susceptibility to metabolic disease in the context of a high-fat diet.

 

DNA methylation is essential for normal development and has been linked to everything from aging to carcinogenesis. This study showed changes in DNA methylation across multiple tissues, not just in adult mice with a choline-consuming gut microbiota, but also in the pups of those animals while they developed in utero.

 

Bacterially induced reduction of methyl-donor availability influenced global DNA methylation patterns in both adult mice and their offspring and engendered behavioral alterations. This study reveal an underappreciated effect of bacterial choline metabolism on host metabolism, epigenetics, and behavior.

 

The choline-deficient mice with choline-consuming gut microbes also showed much higher rates of infanticide, and exhibited signs of anxiety, with some mice over-grooming themselves and their cage-mates, sometimes to the point of baldness.

 

Tests have also shown as many as 65 percent of healthy individuals carry genes that encode for the enzyme that metabolizes choline in their gut microbiomes. This work suggests that interpersonal differences in microbial metabolism should be considered when determining optimal nutrient intake requirements.

 

References:

 

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/11/harvard-research-suggests-microbial-menace/

 

http://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(17)30304-9

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23151509

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25677519

 

http://mbio.asm.org/content/6/2/e02481-14

 

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