Gut bacteria can fight sleep disorders, jet lag, help chemo - study

The study showed how byproducts produced by gut bacteria reset the internal clock that determines when intestinal cells perform their necessary functions.

Low magnification micrograph of small intestinal mucosa. (photo credit: NEPHRON/CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Low magnification micrograph of small intestinal mucosa.
(photo credit: NEPHRON/CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Microorganisms in the gut may help combat sleep disorders, jet lag and foodborne disease and improve chemotherapy outcomes, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found.

In a peer-reviewed study published in Gastroenterology journal on Saturday, the researchers, led by Dr. Sean Moore and Dr. Jason Papin from the University of Virginia, used computer models and "three-dimensional gut organoids"—essentially, miniature intestines in a dish—to demonstrate that microbes in the gut directly influence the circadian rhythm of intestinal cells.

The study demonstrated that short-chain fatty acids produced by gut bacteria—specifically the bacteria E. plexicaudatum, Pseudoflavonifactor, and P. goldsteinii—reset the internal clock that determines when cells lining the intestines perform their necessary functions. These acids toggle specific genes on or off over 24-hour periods and are therefore crucial for necessary biological functions.

UVA noted that the disruption of this process is connected to inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, ulcers, obesity and other medical conditions.

Therefore, the new research may help doctors target intestinal microorganisms to improve health and combat disease and potentially jet lag.

A sample bottle containing E. coli bacteria is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London (credit: REUTERS)A sample bottle containing E. coli bacteria is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London (credit: REUTERS)

What's important for the circadian rhythm?

“Biology is increasingly a data-rich science and computational methods are becoming necessary to understand what the data tell us about microbial and human physiological systems.”

Dr. Jason A. Papin, PhD, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia

Using computer models enabled the researchers to identify which metabolites may be most important for the circadian rhythm.

“Biology is increasingly a data-rich science and computational methods are becoming necessary to understand what the data tell us about microbial and human physiological systems. Systems modeling can help us embrace the complexity of these biological systems to answer questions we have and to help us frame new questions we didn't even know to ask,” said Papin, whose expertise in computer modeling allowed the researchers to identify the metabolites, according to UVA.

“The future is very bright in biomedical research as we take advantage of the data science and computational methods being developed,” he added.