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      Through Ageing, and Beyond: Gut Microbiota and Inflammatory Status in Seniors and Centenarians


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          Age-related physiological changes in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as modifications in lifestyle, nutritional behaviour, and functionality of the host immune system, inevitably affect the gut microbiota, resulting in a greater susceptibility to infections.

          Methodology/Principal Findings

          By using the Human Intestinal Tract Chip (HITChip) and quantitative PCR of 16S rRNA genes of Bacteria and Archaea, we explored the age-related differences in the gut microbiota composition among young adults, elderly, and centenarians, i.e subjects who reached the extreme limits of the human lifespan, living for over 100 years. We observed that the microbial composition and diversity of the gut ecosystem of young adults and seventy-years old people is highly similar but differs significantly from that of the centenarians. After 100 years of symbiotic association with the human host, the microbiota is characterized by a rearrangement in the Firmicutes population and an enrichment in facultative anaerobes, notably pathobionts. The presence of such a compromised microbiota in the centenarians is associated with an increased inflammatory status, also known as inflammageing, as determined by a range of peripheral blood inflammatory markers. This may be explained by a remodelling of the centenarians' microbiota, with a marked decrease in Faecalibacterium prauznitzii and relatives, symbiotic species with reported anti-inflammatory properties. As signature bacteria of the long life we identified specifically Eubacterium limosum and relatives that were more than ten-fold increased in the centenarians.


          We provide evidence for the fact that the ageing process deeply affects the structure of the human gut microbiota, as well as its homeostasis with the host's immune system. Because of its crucial role in the host physiology and health status, age-related differences in the gut microbiota composition may be related to the progression of diseases and frailty in the elderly population.

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          Most cited references 35

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          Inflamm-aging. An evolutionary perspective on immunosenescence.

          In this paper we extend the "network theory of aging," and we argue that a global reduction in the capacity to cope with a variety of stressors and a concomitant progressive increase in proinflammatory status are major characteristics of the aging process. This phenomenon, which we will refer to as "inflamm-aging," is provoked by a continuous antigenic load and stress. On the basis of evolutionary studies, we also argue that the immune and the stress responses are equivalent and that antigens are nothing other than particular types of stressors. We also propose to return macrophage to its rightful place as central actor not only in the inflammatory response and immunity, but also in the stress response. The rate of reaching the threshold of proinflammatory status over which diseases/disabilities ensue and the individual capacity to cope with and adapt to stressors are assumed to be complex traits with a genetic component. Finally, we argue that the persistence of inflammatory stimuli over time represents the biologic background (first hit) favoring the susceptibility to age-related diseases/disabilities. A second hit (absence of robust gene variants and/or presence of frail gene variants) is likely necessary to develop overt organ-specific age-related diseases having an inflammatory pathogenesis, such as atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Following this perspective, several paradoxes of healthy centenarians (increase of plasma levels of inflammatory cytokines, acute phase proteins, and coagulation factors) are illustrated and explained. In conclusion, the beneficial effects of inflammation devoted to the neutralization of dangerous/harmful agents early in life and in adulthood become detrimental late in life in a period largely not foreseen by evolution, according to the antagonistic pleiotropy theory of aging.
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            Comparative Analysis of Human Gut Microbiota by Barcoded Pyrosequencing

            Humans host complex microbial communities believed to contribute to health maintenance and, when in imbalance, to the development of diseases. Determining the microbial composition in patients and healthy controls may thus provide novel therapeutic targets. For this purpose, high-throughput, cost-effective methods for microbiota characterization are needed. We have employed 454-pyrosequencing of a hyper-variable region of the 16S rRNA gene in combination with sample-specific barcode sequences which enables parallel in-depth analysis of hundreds of samples with limited sample processing. In silico modeling demonstrated that the method correctly describes microbial communities down to phylotypes below the genus level. Here we applied the technique to analyze microbial communities in throat, stomach and fecal samples. Our results demonstrate the applicability of barcoded pyrosequencing as a high-throughput method for comparative microbial ecology.
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              Towards the human intestinal microbiota phylogenetic core.

              The paradox of a host specificity of the human faecal microbiota otherwise acknowledged as characterized by global functionalities conserved between humans led us to explore the existence of a phylogenetic core. We investigated the presence of a set of bacterial molecular species that would be altogether dominant and prevalent within the faecal microbiota of healthy humans. A total of 10 456 non-chimeric bacterial 16S rRNA sequences were obtained after cloning of PCR-amplified rDNA from 17 human faecal DNA samples. Using alignment or tetranucleotide frequency-based methods, 3180 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were detected. The 16S rRNA sequences mainly belonged to the phyla Firmicutes (79.4%), Bacteroidetes (16.9%), Actinobacteria (2.5%), Proteobacteria (1%) and Verrumicrobia (0.1%). Interestingly, while most of OTUs appeared individual-specific, 2.1% were present in more than 50% of the samples and accounted for 35.8% of the total sequences. These 66 dominant and prevalent OTUs included members of the genera Faecalibacterium, Ruminococcus, Eubacterium, Dorea, Bacteroides, Alistipes and Bifidobacterium. Furthermore, 24 OTUs had cultured type strains representatives which should be subjected to genome sequence with a high degree of priority. Strikingly, 52 of these 66 OTUs were detected in at least three out of four recently published human faecal microbiota data sets, obtained with very different experimental procedures. A statistical model confirmed these OTUs prevalence. Despite the species richness and a high individual specificity, a limited number of OTUs is shared among individuals and might represent the phylogenetic core of the human intestinal microbiota. Its role in human health deserves further study.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                17 May 2010
                : 5
                : 5
                [1 ]Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
                [2 ]Functional Foods Forum, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
                [3 ]Division of Microbiology and Epidemiology, Department of Basic Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
                [4 ]Department of Experimental Pathology and CIG-Interdepartmental Center L. Galvani, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
                [5 ]Department of Experimental Pathology and Oncology, University of Florence, Florence, Italy
                [6 ]Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
                University of Hyderabad, India
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: CF PB WdV. Performed the experiments: EB LN RO LB. Analyzed the data: EB JN. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: DM RS WDV. Wrote the paper: EB MC RS WDV. Performed samples collection: RO LB EP.

                Biagi et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 14
                Research Article
                Microbiology/Environmental Microbiology



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