Metabolic feedback inhibition influences metabolite secretion by the human gut symbiont bacteroides thetaiotaomicron

Jennie L. Catlett, Jonathan Catazaro, Mikaela Cashman, Sean Carr, Robert Powers, Myra B. Cohen, Nicole R. Buan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Microbial metabolism and trophic interactions between microbes give rise to complex multispecies communities in microbe-host systems. Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) is a human gut symbiont thought to play an important role in maintaining host health. Untargeted nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics revealed B. theta secretes specific organic acids and amino acids in defined minimal medium. Physiological concentrations of acetate and formate found in the human intestinal tract were shown to cause dose-dependent changes in secretion of metabolites known to play roles in host nutrition and pathogenesis. While secretion fluxes varied, biomass yield was unchanged, suggesting feedback inhibition does not affect metabolic bioenergetics but instead redirects carbon and energy to CO2 and H2. Flux balance analysis modeling showed increased flux through CO2-producing reactions under glucose-limiting growth conditions. The metabolic dynamics observed for B. theta, a keystone symbiont organism, underscores the need for metabolic modeling to complement genomic predictions of microbial metabolism to infer mechanisms of microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions. IMPORTANCE Bacteroides is a highly abundant taxon in the human gut, and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) is a ubiquitous human symbiont that colonizes the host early in development and persists throughout its life span. The phenotypic plasticity of keystone organisms such as B. theta is important to understand in order to predict phenotype(s) and metabolic interactions under changing nutrient conditions such as those that occur in complex gut communities. Our study shows B. theta prioritizes energy conservation and suppresses secretion of “overflow metabolites” such as organic acids and amino acids when concentrations of acetate are high. Secreted metabolites, especially amino acids, can be a source of nutrients or signals for the host or other microbes in the community. Our study suggests that when metabolically stressed by acetate, B. theta stops sharing with its ecological partners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0025220
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Acetate
  • Anaerobic
  • Bacteria
  • Bacteroides
  • Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron
  • Fermentation
  • Formate
  • Metabolism
  • Microbiome
  • NMR metabolomics
  • Secretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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