Purpose of review
This article highlights recent advances in the emerging role that gut microbiota play in modulating metabolic phenotypes, with a particular focus on lipid metabolism.
Accumulating data from both human and animal studies demonstrate that intestinal microbes can affect host lipid metabolism through multiple direct and indirect biological mechanisms. These include a variety of signaling molecules produced by gut bacteria that have potent effects on hepatic lipid and bile metabolism and on reverse cholesterol transport, energy expenditure, and insulin sensitivity in peripheral tissues. Additionally, host genetic factors can modulate the abundance of bacterial taxa, which can subsequently affect various metabolic phenotypes. Proof of causality for identified microbial associations with host lipid-related phenotypes has been demonstrated in several animal studies, but remains a challenge in humans. Ultimately, selective manipulation of the gut microbial ecosystem for intervention will first require a better understanding of which specific bacteria, or alternatively, which bacterial metabolites, are appropriate targets.
Recent discoveries have broad implications for elucidating bacterially mediated pathophysiological mechanisms that alter lipid metabolism and other related metabolic traits. From a clinical perspective, this newly recognized endocrine organ system can be targeted for therapeutic benefit of dyslipidemia and cardiometabolic diseases.