The Microbial Metabolites, Short-Chain Fatty Acids, Regulate Colonic Treg Cell Homeostasis

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Science  02 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6145, pp. 569-573
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241165

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Protecting the Guts

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the gut are important sentinels in maintaining the peace between our gut and its trillions of resident bacteria and have been shown to be regulated by specific strains of bacteria in mouse models. Smith et al. (p. 569, published online 4 July; see the Perspective by Bollrath and Powrie) asked whether metabolite(s) generated by resident bacterial species may regulate Tregs in the gut. Indeed, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), bacterial fermentation products of dietary fibers produced by a range of bacteria, restored colonic Treg numbers in mice devoid of a gut microbiota and increased Treg numbers in colonized mice. The effects of SCFAs on Tregs were mediated through GPCR43, a receptor for SCFAs, which is expressed on colonic Tregs. Mice fed SCFAs were protected against experimentally induced colitis in a manner that was dependent on GPR43-expressing Tregs.


Regulatory T cells (Tregs) that express the transcription factor Foxp3 are critical for regulating intestinal inflammation. Candidate microbe approaches have identified bacterial species and strain-specific molecules that can affect intestinal immune responses, including species that modulate Treg responses. Because neither all humans nor mice harbor the same bacterial strains, we posited that more prevalent factors exist that regulate the number and function of colonic Tregs. We determined that short-chain fatty acids, gut microbiota–derived bacterial fermentation products, regulate the size and function of the colonic Treg pool and protect against colitis in a Ffar2-dependent manner in mice. Our study reveals that a class of abundant microbial metabolites underlies adaptive immune microbiota coadaptation and promotes colonic homeostasis and health.

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