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Metabolites produced by microbial fermentation in the human intestine, especially short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), are known to play important roles in colonic and systemic health. Our aim here was to advance our understanding of how and why their concentrations and proportions vary between individuals. We have analysed faecal concentrations of microbial fermentation acids from 10 human volunteer studies, involving 163 subjects, conducted at the Rowett Institute, Aberdeen, UK over a 7-year period. In baseline samples, the % butyrate was significantly higher, whilst % iso-butyrate and % iso-valerate were significantly lower, with increasing total SCFA concentration. The decreasing proportions of iso-butyrate and iso-valerate, derived from amino acid fermentation, suggest that fibre intake was mainly responsible for increased SCFA concentrations. We propose that the increase in % butyrate among faecal SCFA is largely driven by a decrease in colonic pH resulting from higher SCFA concentrations. Consistent with this, both total SCFA and % butyrate increased significantly with decreasing pH across five studies for which faecal pH measurements were available. Colonic pH influences butyrate production through altering the stoichiometry of butyrate formation by butyrate-producing species, resulting in increased acetate uptake and butyrate formation, and facilitating increased relative abundance of butyrate-producing species (notably Roseburia and Eubacterium rectale).
The gut microbiota and its metabolic products interact with the host in many different ways, influencing gut homoeostasis and health outcomes. The species composition of the gut microbiota has been shown to respond to dietary change, determined by competition for substrates and by tolerance of gut conditions. Meanwhile, the metabolic outputs of the microbiota, such as SCFA, are influenced both by the supply of dietary components and via diet-mediated changes in microbiota composition. There has been significant progress in identifying the phylogenetic distribution of pathways responsible for formation of particular metabolites among human colonic bacteria, based on combining cultural microbiology and sequence-based approaches. Formation of butyrate and propionate from hexose sugars, for example, can be ascribed to different bacterial groups, although propionate can be formed via alternative pathways from deoxy-sugars and from lactate by a few species. Lactate, which is produced by many gut bacteria in pure culture, can also be utilised by certain Firmicutes to form butyrate, and its consumption may be important for maintaining a stable community. Predicting the impact of diet upon such a complex and interactive system as the human gut microbiota not only requires more information on the component groups involved but, increasingly, the integration of such information through modelling approaches.
Obesity is a critical health concern and although genetic factors may predispose an individual to become obese, changes in diet and lifestyle over the last few decades are likely to be significant contributors. Even so, it has been suggested that the causes of the current obesity crisis are not simply explained by changes in eating and exercise habits. Evidence suggests that the gut microbiota may play an important role in obesity and may be a factor in the development of associated disease including diabetes, CVD, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer. There have been tremendous advances in knowledge regarding the composition of human gut microbiota, but less is known about their function and role within the human host. It is becoming widely accepted that the products of microbial metabolism influence human health and disease, particularly with respect to immune response and inflammation. However, in most cases, the products of microbial metabolism are uncharacterised and their mechanism of action remains unknown. This review addresses the role of the metabolites produced by gut microbiota in cancer and obesity. It is clear that only if the link between microbial diversity and metabolic functionality is firmly established, will the mechanism by which gut microbiota maintains health or contributes to disease development be elucidated.
We aimed to determine the effects of variations in dietary composition on equine gut microbiota and their fermentation products, and proposed that dietary modifications profoundly affect microbial ecosystems and their metabolites. Bacterial communities within the large intestine of three groups of horses were compared using oligonucleotide-RNA hybridisation methodology. Each group consisting of six horses was maintained on (1) a grass-only diet, (2) a concentrate diet (i.e. supplemented with hydrolysable carbohydrates) and (3) a concentrate diet but horses were affected by simple colonic obstruction and distension (SCOD), a prevalent form of dietary-induced intestinal disease. We show that in response to dietary change and intestinal disease, there is a progressive and significant increase in Lachnospiraceae, the Bacteroidetes assemblage and the lactic acid-producing, Bacillus–Lactobacillus–Streptococcus (BLS) group. In contrast, there is a corresponding decrease in the proportion of obligate fibrolytic, acid-intolerant bacteria, Fibrobacter and Ruminococcaceae. Assessment of monocarboxylic acids indicated that there are significantly higher concentrations of lactic acid in the colonic contents of horses maintained on a concentrate diet and those suffering from SCOD, correlating with the observed increase in the population abundance of the BLS group. However, the population size of the Veillonellaceae (lactate utilisers) remained constant in each study group. The inability of this group to respond to increased lactic acid may be a contributory factor to the build-up of lactic acid observed in horses fed a concentrate diet and those suffering from SCOD.
Acetate is normally regarded as an endproduct of anaerobic fermentation, but butyrate-producing bacteria found in the human colon can be net utilisers of acetate. The butyrate formed provides a fuel for epithelial cells of the large intestine and influences colonic health. [1-13C]Acetate was used to investigate the contribution of exogenous acetate to butyrate formation. Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Roseburia spp. grown in the presence of 60 mm-acetate and 10 mm-glucose derived 85–90 % butyrate-C from external acetate. This was due to rapid interchange between extracellular acetate and intracellular acetyl-CoA, plus net acetate uptake. In contrast, a Coprococcus-related strain that is a net acetate producer derived only 28 % butyrate-C from external acetate. Different carbohydrate-derived energy sources affected butyrate formation by mixed human faecal bacteria growing in continuous or batch cultures. The ranking order of butyrate production rates was amylopectin > oat xylan > shredded wheat > inulin > pectin (continuous cultures), and inulin > amylopectin > oat xylan > shredded wheat > pectin (batch cultures). The contribution of external acetate to butyrate formation in these experiments ranged from 56 (pectin) to 90 % (xylan) in continuous cultures, and from 72 to 91 % in the batch cultures. This is consistent with a major role for bacteria related to F. prausnitzii and Roseburia spp. in butyrate formation from a range of substrates that are fermented in the large intestine. Variations in the dominant metabolic type of butyrate producer between individuals or with variations in diet are not ruled out, however, and could influence butyrate supply in the large intestine.
The human pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 is thought to be spread by direct or indirect contact with infected animal or human faeces. The present study investigated the effects of the plant coumarin esculin and its aglycone esculetin on the survival of a strain of E. coli O157 under gut conditions. The addition of these compounds to human faecal slurries and in vitro continuous-flow fermenter models simulating conditions in the human colon and rumen caused marked decreases in the survival of an introduced strain of E. coli O157. When four calves were experimentally infected with E. coli O157 and fed esculin, the pathogen was detected in five of twenty-eight (18 %) of faecal samples examined post-inoculation, compared with thirteen of thirty-five (37 %) of faecal samples examined from five control calves not fed esculin. Coumarin compounds that occur naturally in dietary plants or when supplemented in the diet probably inhibit the survival of E. coli O157 in the gut.
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