The mucophilic anaerobic bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila is a prominent member of the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota and the only known species of the Verrucomicrobia phylum in the mammalian gut. A high prevalence of A. muciniphila in adult humans is associated with leanness and a lower risk for the development of obesity and diabetes. Four distinct A. muciniphila phylogenetic groups have been described, but little is known about their relative abundance in humans or how they impact human metabolic health. In this study, we isolated and characterized 71 new A. muciniphila strains from a cohort of children and adolescents undergoing treatment for obesity. Based on genomic and phenotypic analysis of these strains, we found several phylogroup-specific phenotypes that may impact the colonization of the GI tract or modulate host functions, such as oxygen tolerance, adherence to epithelial cells, iron and sulfur metabolism, and bacterial aggregation. In antibiotic-treated mice, phylogroups AmIV and AmII outcompeted AmI strains. In children and adolescents, AmI strains were most prominent, but we observed high variance in A. muciniphila abundance and single phylogroup dominance, with phylogroup switching occurring in a small subset of patients. Overall, these results highlight that the ecological principles determining which A. muciniphila phylogroup predominates in humans are complex and that A. muciniphila strain genetic and phenotypic diversity may represent an important variable that should be taken into account when making inferences as to this microbe’s impact on its host’s health. IMPORTANCE The abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is linked to multiple positive health outcomes. There are four known A. muciniphila phylogroups, yet the prevalence of these phylogroups and how they vary in their ability to influence human health is largely unknown. In this study, we performed a genomic and phenotypic analysis of 71 A. muciniphila strains and identified phylogroup-specific traits such as oxygen tolerance, adherence, and sulfur acquisition that likely influence colonization of the GI tract and differentially impact metabolic and immunological health. In humans, we observed that single Akkermansia phylogroups predominate at a given time but that the phylotype can switch in an individual. This collection of strains provides the foundation for the functional characterization of A. muciniphila phylogroup-specific effects on the multitude of host outcomes associated with Akkermansia colonization, including protection from obesity, diabetes, colitis, and neurological diseases, as well as enhanced responses to cancer immunotherapies.
- Adolescent obesity
- Assimilatory sulfur reduction (ASR)
- Comparative genomics
- Phylogenetic analysis
ASJC Scopus subject areas