APR 15, 2015 11:24 AM PDT

How Popular Probiotic Helps the Gut

WRITTEN BY: Judy O'Rourke
In recent years, research into the benefits of gut bacteria has exploded. Scientists across the globe are examining how these microbes can help improve health and prevent disease.

One of the most well-known of these is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). This strain of bacteria, which is part of many popular probiotic products, has a reputation as a helpful microbe. Researchers have found evidence that it can help with intestinal problems, respiratory infections and some skin disorders. Some research suggests that it may even help with weight loss.

But a key question has remained unanswered: How does LGG actually produce benefits?

Now, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) have come up with an explanation. It appears that LGG may act as a facilitator, modifying the activity of other gut bacteria. This is the first time this mechanism has been described; the discovery could eventually help scientists create more effective strategies to foster a healthy gut. The paper was published in the latest issue of the journal mBio.

Claire M. Fraser, PhD, professor of medicine, UM SOM, as well as director of the Institute for Genome Sciences, studied the effect of LGG on a group of elderly subjects "This species of bacteria has a reputation for being really useful to humans," Fraser says. "So we wanted to better understand how it might work in the human intestine."

She and her collaborator, Patricia Hibberd, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, tested 12 subjects, who ingested LGG twice a day for 28 days. She analyzed gut bacteria before and after this regimen, and found that ingesting LGG led to increases in several genes that foster several species of gut bacteria, including Bacteroides, Eubacterium, Faecalibacterium, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus. These microbes have been shown to have a range of benefits in humans, including the promotion of a healthy immune system. (Fraser notes that LGG may also have direct effects, in addition to its ability to modify the overall ecosystem.)

"This is a new idea, that some probiotics may work by affecting the overall ecosystem of the gut," Fraser says. "Previously we tended to think that LGG and other probiotics worked directly on the host. I think this finding has many exciting implications." For one, Fraser says, it lends support to the idea that we need to look at the microbes in the gut as an interconnected ecosystem rather than a series of solitary bacteria. Modifying the behavior of microbes already in the gut may be just as important as adding any single species to this population.

Fraser and her colleagues used an innovative method for enumerating gut bacteria; this approach, known as metagenomic analysis, allows for a much more comprehensive view of what the microbes are actually doing in a given person's intestines. Previous methods do not provide nearly the same level of detail as this method.

"Dr. Fraser's study is not only fascinating, but it will help advance a rapidly emerging research area," says Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, professor and dean of the School of Medicine.

[Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine]
About the Author
  • Judy O'Rourke worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming chief editor of Clinical Lab Products magazine. As a freelance writer today, she is interested in finding the story behind the latest developments in medicine and science, and in learning what lies ahead.
You May Also Like
AUG 18, 2020
Microbiology
Syphilis was Spreading in Europe Before Columbus' Time
AUG 18, 2020
Syphilis was Spreading in Europe Before Columbus' Time
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium: Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. Its origins ha ...
AUG 28, 2020
Microbiology
As Buildings Reopen After Lockdowns, They Find Legionella
AUG 28, 2020
As Buildings Reopen After Lockdowns, They Find Legionella
Several schools and even buildings at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified Legionella ba ...
SEP 27, 2020
Microbiology
New Insight Into An Old Bacterial Pathogen
SEP 27, 2020
New Insight Into An Old Bacterial Pathogen
There are many different strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, some of which live harmlessly in the human gut. But some ...
OCT 05, 2020
Microbiology
Deadly Microbe Linked to Childhood Brain Disorder
OCT 05, 2020
Deadly Microbe Linked to Childhood Brain Disorder
Pediatric hydrocephalus - excessive fluid on the brain of a child - has been connected to a bacterial pathogen.
OCT 13, 2020
Microbiology
Bacterial Biofilms Can Take on Some Animal-Like Characteristics
OCT 13, 2020
Bacterial Biofilms Can Take on Some Animal-Like Characteristics
Bacteria are everywhere, even inside of our bodies, and they are thought to date back to the early days of life on Earth ...
OCT 21, 2020
Microbiology
The First Treatment for Ebola is Approved by FDA
OCT 21, 2020
The First Treatment for Ebola is Approved by FDA
Ebola virus can pass from animals to humans, and between people. Rarely, it causes outbreaks but when it does, they can ...
Loading Comments...