An opportunistic pathogen isolated from the gut of an obese human causes obesity in germfree mice

Is obesity contagious?

Abstract: Lipopolysaccharide endotoxin is the only known bacterial product which, when subcutaneously infused into mice in its purified form, can induce obesity and insulin resistance via an inflammation-mediated pathway. Here we show that one endotoxin-producing bacterium isolated from a morbidly obese human’s gut induced obesity and insulin resistance in germfree mice. The endotoxin-producing Enterobacter decreased in relative abundance from 35% of the volunteer’s gut bacteria to non-detectable, during which time the volunteer lost 51.4 kg of 174.8 kg initial weight and recovered from hyperglycemia and hypertension after 23 weeks on a diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics. A decreased abundance of endotoxin biosynthetic genes in the gut of the volunteer was correlated with a decreased circulating endotoxin load and alleviated inflammation. Mono-association of germfree C57BL/6J mice with strain Enterobacter cloacae B29 isolated from the volunteer’s gut induced fully developed obesity and insulin resistance on a high-fat diet but not on normal chow diet, whereas the germfree control mice on a high-fat diet did not exhibit the same disease phenotypes. The Enterobacter-induced obese mice showed increased serum endotoxin load and aggravated inflammatory conditions. The obesity-inducing capacity of this human-derived endotoxin producer in gnotobiotic mice suggests that it may causatively contribute to the development of obesity in its human host.

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