Intestinal microbiota and obesity.
The human gut harbors a highly diverse microbial ecosystem of approximately 400 different species, which is characterized by a high interindividual variability. The intestinal microbiota has recently been suggested to contribute to the development of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Transplantation of gut microbiota from obese mice to nonobese, germ-free mice resulted in transfer of metabolic syndrome-associated features from the donor to the recipient. Proposed mechanisms for the role of gut microbiota include the provision of additional energy by the conversion of dietary fiber to short-chain fatty acids, effects on gut-hormone production, and increased intestinal permeability causing elevated systemic levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS). This metabolic endotoxemia is suggested to contribute to low-grade inflammation, a characteristic trait of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Finally, activation of the endocannabinoid system by LPS and/or high-fat diets is discussed as another causal factor. In conclusion, there is ample evidence for a role of gut microbiota in the development of obesity in rodents. However, the magnitude of its contribution to human obesity is still unknown.