The composite human gut microbiomes of Western populations have changed over the past century, brought on by new environmental triggers that often have a negative impact on human health. Diets high in saturated fats and refined sugars and low in fiber are leading candidates for these events and for triggering the increased prevalence of immune-mediated diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Our studies have shown that consumption of a 'Western' diet high in saturated (milk-derived) fat (MF) or n-6 polyunsaturated (safflower oil) fat have similar effects on the structure of the colonic microbiome of wild-type and IL- 10(-/-) mice, characterized by increased Bacteroidetes and decreased Firmicutes. However, the MF diet uniquely promotes the expansion of an immunogenic sulfite-reducing pathobiont, Bilophila wadsworthia, a member of the Deltaproteobacteria and minor component of the gut microbiome. This bacterial bloom results from a MF diet-induced shift in hepatic conjugation of bile acids, from glycocholic to taurocholic (TC) acid, which is important for solubilizing the more hydrophobic MF diet. However, it is also responsible for delivery of taurine-derived sulfur to the distal bowel, promoting the assemblage of bile-tolerant microbes such as B. wadsworthia. The bloom of this species promotes a Th1-mediated immune response and the development of colitis in IL-10(-/-) mice. A similar bloom of B. wadsworthia is seen when IL-10(-/-) mice are fed a low-fat diet supplemented with TC. B. wadsworthia colonization of monoassociated germ-free IL-10(-/-) mice was dependent on the host consuming either a high-saturated MF diet or the gavage with TC.

Together, these data provide a plausible explanation for the link between diseases such as IBD and dietary-mediated selection of gut microbial pathobionts in genetically susceptible hosts. With this knowledge, it may be possible to mitigate the bloom of these types of pathobionts by modifying the conjugation states of bile acids.

PMID: 26045269

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