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Druglike molecules produced by gut bacteria can affect gut, immune health

Stanford researchers found that manipulating the gut microbe Clostridium sporogenes changed levels of molecules in the bloodstreams of mice and, in turn, affected their health.

Here’s some food for thought: When you lick your Thanksgiving plate clean this week, you’re not just feeding yourself; you’re also providing meals to the trillions of microbes that live in your gut.

And if your dinner includes turkey, a notoriously rich source of the amino acid tryptophan, the gut bacterium Clostridium sporogenes will have the job of breaking down that tryptophan. Then the molecules that are produced by the microbe will flow into your bloodstream in the same way a prescription drug might, interacting with your immune system and changing the biology of the intestines.

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have used mice to demonstrate how gut bugs could be bioengineered to produce possibly therapeutic changes in the body.

A paper describing their efforts was published online Nov. 22 in Nature. Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and Michael Fischbach, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering, share senior authorship. The lead author is Dylan Dodd, MD, PhD, instructor in pathology.

When the researchers blocked the ability of C. sporogenes to break down tryptophan in mice, levels of certain molecules in their bloodstreams changed. Moreover, the researchers saw physiological changes to the mice’s immune systems and intestines.

“This is a vivid example of not only how the microbiome is affecting things all over your body, but of how we can leverage that to improve health,” said Sonnenburg, using a term for the collection of microbes living on or inside an animal, or in a particular part.

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Druglike molecules produced by gut bacteria can affect gut, immune health

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