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David Plaut: Off the Cuff

The Human Gut

Published July 16, 2014 12:49 PM by David Plaut

The human gut is home to trillions of microbes (the intestinal microbiota) that form a symbiotic relationship with the human host. During health, this intestinal microbiota provides many benefits to the host and is generally resistant to colonization by new species; however, disruption of this complex community can lead to pathogen invasion, inflammation, and disease.

Restoration and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiota composition requires effective therapies to reduce and prevent colonization of harmful bacteria (pathogens) while simultaneously promoting growth of beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Accumulating evidence indicates that the gut microbiota plays a significant role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. 

Important to this subject is the concept of "crosstalk" (i.e., the biochemical exchange between host and microbiota that maintains the metabolic health of the superorganism and whose dysregulation is a hallmark of the obese state). Differences in community composition, functional genes and metabolic activities of the gut microbiota appear to distinguish lean vs obese individuals, suggesting that gut "dysbiosis" contributes to the development of obesity and/or its complications. The current challenge is to determine the relative importance of obesity-associated compositional and functional changes in the microbiota and to identify the relevant taxa and functional gene modules that promote leanness and metabolic health.

As diet appears to play a predominant role in shaping the microbiota and promoting obesity-associated dysbiosis, parallel initiatives are required to elucidate dietary patterns and diet components (e.g., prebiotics, probiotics) that promote healthy gut microbiota.

References

  1. Mol Aspects Med. 2013 Feb;34(1):39-58.
  2. J Mol Biol. 2014 Jun 6. pii: S0022-2836(14)00279-4.
  3. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2012
  4. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011
  5. Pharmacol Ther. 2011
posted by David Plaut

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