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Vol. 34, 2015, Pages: 106–115

Chemical communication in the gut: Effects of microbiota-generated metabolites on gastrointestinal bacterial pathogens

Stefanie L. Vogt, Jorge Peña-Díaz, B. Brett Finlay

Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Gastrointestinal pathogens must overcome many obstacles in order to successfully colonize a host, not the least of which is the presence of the gut microbiota, the trillions of commensal microorganisms inhabiting mammals' digestive tracts, and their products. It is well established that a healthy gut microbiota provides its host with protection from numerous pathogens, including Salmonella species, Clostridium difficile, diarrheagenic Escherichia coli, and Vibrio cholerae. Conversely, pathogenic bacteria have evolved mechanisms to establish an infection and thrive in the face of fierce competition from the microbiota for space and nutrients. Here, we review the evidence that gut microbiota-generated metabolites play a key role in determining the outcome of infection by bacterial pathogens. By consuming and transforming dietary and host-produced metabolites, as well as secreting primary and secondary metabolites of their own, the microbiota define the chemical environment of the gut and often determine specific host responses. Although most gut microbiota-produced metabolites are currently uncharacterized, several well-studied molecules made or modified by the microbiota are known to affect the growth and virulence of pathogens, including short-chain fatty acids, succinate, mucin O-glycans, molecular hydrogen, secondary bile acids, and the AI-2 quorum sensing autoinducer. We also discuss challenges and possible approaches to further study of the chemical interplay between microbiota and gastrointestinal pathogens.

Keywords: Gastrointestinal tract; Microbiota; Bacterial pathogens; Metabolome; Microbial interactions.

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