Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control Weight

Posted on October 20, 2008  Comments (3)

A single molecule in the intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether the host animals are lean or fatty, a research team, including scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center, has found in a mouse study.

When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight. Without this signal, the animals weigh less.

The study shows that the host can use bacterial byproducts not only as a source of nutrients, but also as chemical signals to regulate body functions. It also points the way to a potential method of controlling weight, the researchers said.

“It’s quite possible that blocking this receptor molecule in the intestine might fight a certain kind of obesity by blocking absorption of energy from the gut,” said Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics at UT Southwestern and a senior co-author of the study, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, open access: Effects of the gut microbiota on host adiposity are modulated by the short-chain fatty-acid binding G protein-coupled receptor, Gpr41.

Humans, like other animals, have a large and varied population of beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines. The bacteria break up large molecules that the host cannot digest. The host in turn absorbs many of the resulting small molecules for energy and nutrients.

In the Big Fat Lie I mentioned some related ideas:

It also makes perfect sense that our bodies evolved to store energy for worse times (and some of us have bodies better at doing that). Now we are in a new environment where (at least for many people alive today) finding enough calories is not going to be a problem so it would be nice if we could tell our bodies to get less efficient at storing fat

This research seems to be looking for a similar way to attack the obesity epidemic: reduce the efficiency of our bodies converting potential energy in the food we eat to energy we use or store. If we can make that part of the solution that will be nice. So far the reduction in our activity and increase in food intake have not been getting good results. And efforts to increase (from our current low levels) activity and reduce food intake have not been very effective.

“The number of bacteria in our gut far exceeds the total number of cells in our bodies,” said Dr. Yanagisawa. “It’s truly a mutually beneficial relationship. We provide the bacteria with food, and in return they supply energy and nutrients,” he explained.

Using mice, the researchers focused on two species of bacteria that break up dietary fibers from food into small molecules called short-chain fatty acids. Dr. Yanagisawa’s team previously had found that short-chain fatty acids bind to and activate a receptor molecule in the gut wall called Gpr41, although little was known about the physiological outcome of Gpr41 activation.

The researchers disrupted communication between the bacteria and the hosts in two ways: raising normal mice under germ-free conditions so they lacked the bacteria, and genetically engineering other mice to lack Gpr41 so they were unable to respond to the bacteria.

In both cases, the mice weighed less and had a leaner build than their normal counterparts even though they all ate the same amount.

The researchers also found that in mice without Gpr41, the intestines passed food more quickly. They hypothesized that one action of Gpr41 is to slow down the motion that propels food forward, so that more nutrients can be absorbed. Thus, if the receptor cannot be activated, food is expelled more quickly, and the animal gets less energy from it.

Because mice totally lacking Gpr41 were still healthy and had intestinal function, the receptor may be a likely target for drugs that can slow, but not stop, energy intake, Dr. Yanagisawa said.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the W.M. Keck Foundation, the Japan Science and Technology Agency and HHMI.

Related: full press release$500 Million to Reduce Childhood Obesity in USAEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

3 Responses to “Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control Weight”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Post 2009
    January 1st, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

    […] Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control Weight […]

  2. Curious Cat Science Blog » Taste Cells in the Stomach and Intestine
    March 21st, 2010 @ 8:39 am

    “Gut taste cells appear to regulate, in part, secretion of insulin, a hormone crucial for telling body tissues whether they should tap newly arrived glucose or valuable stored fat for energy…”

  3. Sati
    April 1st, 2010 @ 4:59 am

    “Because mice totally lacking Gpr41 were still healthy and had intestinal function, the receptor may be a likely target for drugs that can slow, but not stop, energy intake”

    Ok… it’s a new concept I like. I hope it is really as harmless as the good Dr. says though.
    Thanks for the info– you make it easier for me to keep up with all these innovations!

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