The inside track: Gut microbes may alter the aging process, study finds

December 10, 2019

The unseen, microbial lives that we foster inside our intestinal tracks may affect our individual life expectancy, according to a new study featured on News-Medical.

An international research team from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore–led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore)—has found that microorganisms living in the gut may alter the aging process, which could lead to the development of food-based treatment to slow it down.

All living organisms, including human beings, coexist with a myriad of microbial species living in and on them, and research has established their important role in nutrition, physiology, metabolism, and behavior.

For the most recent study, a team led by Professor Sven Pettersson of the NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine transplanted gut microbes from two-year-old mice into much younger, six-week-old germ-free mice. After eight weeks, the younger mice had increased intestinal growth and production of neurons in the brain, known as neurogenesis.

The team showed that the increased neurogenesis was due to an enrichment of gut microbes that produce a specific short chain fatty acid, called butyrate, News-Medical reported.

Butyrate is produced through microbial fermentation of dietary fibers in the lower intestinal tract and stimulates production of a pro-longevity hormone called FGF21, which plays an important role in regulating the body’s energy and metabolism. As we age, butyrate production is reduced.

The researchers then showed that giving butyrate on its own to the young germ-free mice had the same adult neurogenesis effects, noting: These results will lead us to explore whether butyrate might support repair and rebuilding in situations like stroke [and] spinal damage, [as well as] to attenuate accelerated aging and cognitive decline.”

Pettersson commented, “We can conceive of future human studies where we would test the ability of food products with butyrate to support healthy aging and adult neurogenesis.”.

He added, “In Singapore, with its strong food culture, exploring the use of food to ‘heal’ ourselves, would be an intriguing next step, and the results could be important in Singapore’s quest to support healthy aging for their silver generation”.

Group leader Dr, Dario Riccardo Valenzano at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, who was not involved in the study, said the discovery is a milestone in research on microbiome.

“These results are exciting and raise several new open questions for both biology of aging and microbiome research, including whether there is an active acquisition of butyrate-producing microbes during mice life and whether extreme aging leads to a loss of this fundamental microbial community, which may be eventually responsible for dysbiosis and age-related dysfunctions,” he added.

The study was published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, on November 13.

Research contact: @NewsMedical

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