UT Southwestern scientists have discovered a key driver behind the communication that helps synchronize nutrient absorption in the gut and the rhythms of the Earth’s day-night light cycle.
Previous studies show that circadian rhythmicity is a defining feature in the metabolism of mammals. It synchronizes metabolic processes to day-night light cycles. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the gut microbiota also displays daily cycling.
During this fascinating study on mice, the researchers found that commensal, or good, bacteria can do this epigenetically. The bacteria induce the rhythmic expression of a protein called histone deacetylase 3 (HDAC3) in the skin cells of the small intestine. This expression drives the oscillations in intestinal metabolic gene expression, particularly with regard to nutrient transport and lipid metabolism. HDAC3 also directly activates estrogen-related receptor alpha, which promotes the absorption of fats.
This means that the mice that lack the essential good bacteria that regulate their metabolism also become obese on high-fat chow. It could also explain antibiotic-related obesity, as well as obesity that’s related to sleep disruption due to jet lag and night-time working.
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