Editors' ChoiceMicrobiome

Tune into the rhythm of your bugs

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Science Translational Medicine  11 Jan 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 372, eaal4990
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal4990


Diurnal changes in gut microbiota localization and function alter host physiology through circadian epigenetic and transcriptional changes.

The circadian clock plays an important role in host physiology to conform to the diurnal variation in host environment through coordinated oscillations of the epigenome and transcriptome. Recent studies have described diurnal oscillations in the gut microbiota composition and function, which in turn interact with the host to affect circadian clock activities, but the mechanisms by which the microbiome may influence diurnal changes in host physiology were largely unknown. Now, Thaiss and colleagues have used mouse models and a systems biology approach to determine how functional aspects of gut microbiota impact circadian host physiology.

The authors of this study found that the distribution of the microbiota within the intestinal epithelium and microbiota-derived metabolites in systemic circulation undergo diurnal oscillations as a function of diet and host epithelial barrier function. They further show that diurnal variations in the microbiome affect host physiology, as evidenced by the alteration in host epigenome and transcriptome rhythmicity leading to reprogramming and generation of new oscillatory function following microbiota disruption in antibiotic-treated or germ-free mice. This effect in part relies on microbial adherence to the intestine. Interestingly, the microbiome also influences transcriptional oscillations beyond the intestine, such as in the liver, affecting important host functions such as detoxification of drugs.

The study provides novel insights into the role of gut microbiome in host circadian physiology and the regulation of important host functions via metabolites in systemic circulation at sites distant from the intestine. The study raises concern about the effect of microbial alteration on development of circadian disorders. The findings hold promise for potential microbiota-based therapies for diseases associated with disruption of the circadian clock such as sleep disorders and metabolism of drug and dietary nutrients. However, while the findings provide mechanistic links between the microbiome and host function, the results and their relevance will need to be further validated in human cohorts to determine their applicability in circadian disorders.

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