Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms

Author: Alcock, J.; Maley, C.C.; Aktipis, C.A.

Description: Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behavior to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria until we eat foods that enhance their fitness. We review several potential mechanisms for microbial control over eating behavior including microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood, changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain. We also review the evidence for alternative explanations for cravings and unhealthy eating behavior. Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.

Subject headings: Animals; Biological Evolution; Feeding Behavior; Gastrointestinal Tract/microbiology; Humans; Microbiota; Models, Biological; Obesity/etiology; Cravings; Evolutionary conflict; Host manipulation; Microbiome; Gut

Publication year: 2014

Journal or book title: BioEssays : News and Reviews in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

Volume: 36

Issue: 10

Pages: 940-949

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 2002