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Mapping the Gut: Cholesterol-Chomping Bacteria Identified in Human Study

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMay 29, 2024

In a landmark discovery, researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Framingham Heart Study have unveiled a novel interaction between gut bacteria, metabolites, and cardiovascular disease markers. The results of this integrative analysis were recently published by Chenhao Li, Martin Strazar, Ahmed M.T. Mohamed and colleagues in the journal Cell.

The gut microbiome, consisting of trillions of bacteria, plays a crucial role in maintaining human health. Disturbances in the microbial composition are linked to a variety of cardiometabolic diseases including heart disease, the leading cause of death globally. Researchers focused on 1,429 participants from the renowned Framingham Heart Study to profile the association between gut microbiome composition, metabolites, and cardiovascular health.

The study utilized shotgun metagenomics and metabolomics data from stool samples, revealing a spectrum of microbiome profiles associated with metabolic health. Particularly, a group of bacteria under the genus Oscillibacter were identified to be associated with decreased fecal and plasma cholesterol levels.

The team conducted molecular networking and functional prediction analysis that indicated Oscillibacter's species have the ability to metabolize cholesterol. They found that the presence of these bacteria correlates with a decrease in blood lipids, suggesting a potential for improving lipid homeostasis and thereby cardiovascular health.

Furthermore, the study identified various microbial species and metabolic features significantly associated with blood measurements linked to cardiovascular disease risk. For instance, the presence of the bacteria Parabacteroides merdae was positively associated with the serum inflammation marker CRP (C-reactive protein), and an unclassified Firmicutes species showed a robust positive association with plasma cholesterol levels.

The insights provided by this study are promising for the development of new therapies focusing on the gut microbiome to combat cardiovascular diseases.

For more details on the study, refer to the article "Gut microbiome and metabolome profiling in Framingham heart study reveals cholesterol-metabolizing bacteria" published in Cell (2024):

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Li, C., Strazar, M., Mohamed, A. M. T., Pacheco, J. A., Walker, R. L., Lebar, T., Zhao, S., Lockart, J., Dame, A., Thurimella, K., ... Xavier, R. J. (2024). Gut microbiome and metabolome profiling in Framingham heart study reveals cholesterol metabolizing bacteria. Cell, 187(1-19), 1-19.