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1.  Structural resilience of the gut microbiota in adult mice under high-fat dietary perturbations 
The ISME Journal  2012;6(10):1848-1857.
Disruption of the gut microbiota by high-fat diet (HFD) has been implicated in the development of obesity. It remains to be elucidated whether the HFD-induced shifts occur at the phylum level or whether they can be attributed to specific phylotypes; additionally, it is unclear to what extent the changes are reversible under normal chow (NC) feeding. One group (diet-induced obesity, DIO) of adult C57BL/6J mice was fed a HFD for 12 weeks until significant obesity and insulin resistance were observed, and then these mice were switched to NC feeding for 10 weeks. Upon switching to NC feeding, the metabolic deteriorations observed during HFD consumption were significantly alleviated. The second group (control, CHO) remained healthy under continuous NC feeding. UniFrac analysis of bar-coded pyrosequencing data showed continued structural segregation of DIO from CHO on HFD. At 4 weeks after switching back to NC, the gut microbiota in the DIO group had already moved back to the CHO space, and continued to progress along the same age trajectory and completely converged with CHO after 10 weeks. Redundancy analysis identified 77 key phylotypes responding to the dietary perturbations. HFD-induced shifts of these phylotypes all reverted to CHO levels over time. Some of these phylotypes exhibited robust age-related changes despite the dramatic abundance variations in response to dietary alternations. These findings suggest that HFD-induced structural changes of the gut microbiota can be attributed to reversible elevation or diminution of specific phylotypes, indicating the significant structural resilience of the gut microbiota of adult mice to dietary perturbations.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.27
PMCID: PMC3446802  PMID: 22495068
dietary perturbations; gut microbiota; obesity; resilience
2.  Structural Changes of Gut Microbiota during Berberine-Mediated Prevention of Obesity and Insulin Resistance in High-Fat Diet-Fed Rats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42529.
Berberine, a major pharmacological component of the Chinese herb Coptis chinensis, which was originally used to treat bacterial diarrhea, has recently been demonstrated to be clinically effective in alleviating type 2 diabetes. In this study, we revealed that berberine effectively prevented the development of obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet (HFD)-fed rats, which showed decreased food intake. Increases in the levels of serum lipopolysaccharide-binding protein, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, and leptin and decrease in the serum level of adiponectin corrected for body fat in HFD-fed rats were also significantly retarded by the co-administration of berberine at 100 mg/kg body weight. Bar-coded pyrosequencing of the V3 region of 16S rRNA genes revealed a significant reduction in the gut microbiota diversity of berberine-treated rats. UniFrac principal coordinates analysis revealed a marked shift of the gut microbiota structure in berberine-treated rats away from that of the controls. Redundancy analysis identified 268 berberine-responding operational taxonomic units (OTUs), most of which were essentially eliminated, whereas a few putative short-chain fatty acid (SCFA)-producing bacteria, including Blautia and Allobaculum, were selectively enriched, along with elevations of fecal SCFA concentrations. Partial least square regression models based on these 268 OTUs were established (Q2>0.6) for predicting the adiposity index, body weight, leptin and adiponectin corrected for body fat, indicating that these discrete phylotypes might have a close association with the host metabolic phenotypes. Taken together, our findings suggest that the prevention of obesity and insulin resistance by berberine in HFD-fed rats is at least partially mediated by structural modulation of the gut microbiota, which may help to alleviate inflammation by reducing the exogenous antigen load in the host and elevating SCFA levels in the intestine.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042529
PMCID: PMC3411811  PMID: 22880019
3.  Adapting functional genomic tools to metagenomic analyses: investigating the role of gut bacteria in relation to obesity 
Briefings in Functional Genomics  2010;9(5-6):355-361.
With the expanding availability of sequencing technologies, research previously centered on the human genome can now afford to include the study of humans’ internal ecosystem (human microbiome). Given the scale of the data involved in this metagenomic research (two orders of magnitude larger than the human genome) and their importance in relation to human health, it is crucial to guarantee (along with the appropriate data collection and taxonomy) proper tools for data analysis. We propose to adapt the approaches defined for the analysis of gene-expression microarray in order to infer information in metagenomics. In particular, we applied SAM, a broadly used tool for the identification of differentially expressed genes among different samples classes, to a reported dataset on a research model with mice of two genotypes (a high density lipoprotein knockout mouse and its wild-type counterpart). The data contain two different diets (high-fat or normal-chow) to ensure the onset of obesity, prodrome of metabolic syndromes (MS). By using 16S rRNA gene as a genomic diversity marker, we illustrate how this approach can identify bacterial populations differentially enriched among different genetic and dietary conditions of the host. This approach faithfully reproduces highly-relevant results from phylogenetic and standard statistical analyses, used to explain the role of the gut microbiome in relation to obesity. This represents a promising proof-of-principle for using functional genomic approaches in the fast growing area of metagenomics, and warrants the availability of a large body of thoroughly tested and theoretically sound methodologies to this exciting new field.
doi:10.1093/bfgp/elq011
PMCID: PMC3080776  PMID: 21266343
human microbiome; functional genomic; metagenomics
4.  Structural modulation of gut microbiota in life-long calorie-restricted mice 
Nature Communications  2013;4:2163.
Calorie restriction has been regarded as the only experimental regimen that can effectively lengthen lifespan in various animal models, but the actual mechanism remains controversial. The gut microbiota has been shown to have a pivotal role in host health, and its structure is mostly shaped by diet. Here we show that life-long calorie restriction on both high-fat or low-fat diet, but not voluntary exercise, significantly changes the overall structure of the gut microbiota of C57BL/6 J mice. Calorie restriction enriches phylotypes positively correlated with lifespan, for example, the genus Lactobacillus on low-fat diet, and reduces phylotypes negatively correlated with lifespan. These calorie restriction-induced changes in the gut microbiota are concomitant with significantly reduced serum levels of lipopolysaccharide-binding protein, suggesting that animals under calorie restriction can establish a structurally balanced architecture of gut microbiota that may exert a health benefit to the host via reduction of antigen load from the gut.
Calorie restriction has been shown to extend lifespan in diverse model systems, however, the mechanisms underlying this effect remain unclear. Zhang et al. show that calorie restriction changes the structure of the gut microbiota in mice, enriching for phylotypes positively correlated with lifespan.
doi:10.1038/ncomms3163
PMCID: PMC3717500  PMID: 23860099

Results 1-4 (4)