Gut Microbes Help Turn Up The Heat

A research group in China has demonstrated that gut microbiota contribute to the activation of brown fat which helps to maintain core body temperature under cold exposure.

AsianScientist (Mar. 20, 2019) – Gut microbiota can influence the regulation of body temperature, say scientists in China. Their findings are published in the journal Cell Reports.

The gut microbiome has been shown to have diverse impacts on human and animal physiology. For example, they are known to play a part in food digestion, with implications for susceptibility to obesity or diabetes.

In the present study, researchers led by Professor John R. Speakman from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed the important role of gut microbiota in thermoregulation—the way animals respond to cold exposure.

During cold exposure, it is known that animals sustain their body temperature by activating heat production from a specialized tissue known as brown adipose tissue (BAT). Low temperatures are also known to promote the ‘browning’ of white adipose tissue.

To evaluate the function of gut microbiota in the activation of BAT, researchers used different antibiotic recipes to eradicate gut microbiota in mice. They subsequently found that animals lacking gut microbiota had impaired thermoregulation.

Digging deeper, the researchers noted that the removal of gut microbiota blunted the increase in the expression of uncoupling protein 1 in BAT and reduced white adipose tissue browning. They also showed that oral administration of the bacterial metabolite butyrate increased the thermogenic capacity of antibiotic-treated mice.

This research adds to the expanding areas of physiology and health that are impacted by the gut microbiome, though the scientists cautioned against extending the conclusions to humans without further investigation.

Going forward, the team is interested in probing whether thermogenic capacity changes with the composition of the microbiome as an animal ages. This is because elderly people often have problems with mounting an adequate thermoregulation response to the cold, which makes them susceptible to hypothermia. Perhaps, modulating the age-related changes in the microbiome will afford elderly people more protection against the cold, the researchers said.

The article can be found at: Li et al. (2019) Microbiota Depletion Impairs Thermogenesis of Brown Adipose Tissue and Browning of White Adipose Tissue.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Pixabay.
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