Certain changes in the composition and function of gut bacteria are associated with atherosclerosis, a study published in Nature Communications reports. The work provides clues as to how bacteria living in the gut may influence the development of this disease.
The community of gut bacteria is important for human health, as alterations in the gut microbiota can promote the development of diseases such as asthma and diabetes. Fredrik Backhed and colleagues studied the collective genetic makeup of gut bacteria, known as the metagenome, of patients with symptomatic atherosclerosis and compared it to that of healthy individuals. They found that the two groups differed in the types of bacteria found in the gut and in the specific metabolic functions encoded in their metagenomes. For example, gut bacteria of patients with atherosclerosis possessed fewer genes for the production of a naturally occurring antioxidant and patients also had lower concentrations of this antioxidant in the blood. Similarly, genes involved in the production of bacterial components that cause inflammation, a process known to drive the development of atherosclerosis, were more frequently found in metagenomes of patients with the disease.