Research ArticleMICROBIOLOGY

Microbiome-derived carnitine mimics as previously unknown mediators of gut-brain axis communication

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Science Advances  11 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 11, eaax6328
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax6328


Alterations to the gut microbiome are associated with various neurological diseases, yet evidence of causality and identity of microbiome-derived compounds that mediate gut-brain axis interaction remain elusive. Here, we identify two previously unknown bacterial metabolites 3-methyl-4-(trimethylammonio)butanoate and 4-(trimethylammonio)pentanoate, structural analogs of carnitine that are present in both gut and brain of specific pathogen–free mice but absent in germ-free mice. We demonstrate that these compounds are produced by anaerobic commensal bacteria from the family Lachnospiraceae (Clostridiales) family, colocalize with carnitine in brain white matter, and inhibit carnitine-mediated fatty acid oxidation in a murine cell culture model of central nervous system white matter. This is the first description of direct molecular inter-kingdom exchange between gut prokaryotes and mammalian brain cells, leading to inhibition of brain cell function.

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