Gut ecological networks reveal associations between bacteria, exercise and clinical profile in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients.

Csader S*, Chen X*, Leung H*, Männistö V, Pentikäinen H, Tauriainen MM, Savonen K, El-Nezami H, Schwab U#, Panagiotou G# (2023) Gut ecological networks reveal associations between bacteria, exercise and clinical profile in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients. mSystems 8(5), e0022423.

*equal contribution #corresponding author


Gut microbial dysbiosis has been observed in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The beneficial impact of exercise, the recommended lifestyle change for NAFLD patients, might be mediated by the gut microbiome (GM). However, the exact taxonomic and functional signatures associated with the host's clinical and biochemical improvement during exercise in NAFLD patients have not been elucidated yet. To investigate the impact of exercise on GM and reveal GM structures associated with NAFLD improvement during exercise. Stool samples from a 12-week randomized controlled exercise study on NAFLD subjects (N = 39) were retrieved, and shotgun metagenomics was performed at baseline and endpoint. Differential correlation network and enrichment analysis were applied to characterize the GM taxonomic and functional changes during the exercise intervention and to associate GM changes with biomarkers of liver status and metabolic dysregulation. Network analysis demonstrated that exercise induced significant changes in the bacterial interactome, which were associated with waist circumference; resting metabolic rate; plasma fasting concentrations of triglyceride, glucose, insulin, and glycated hemoglobin A1c; and homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance. Grouping the patients in the exercise group (N = 20) as responders (N = 13) and non-responders (N = 7) using their intrahepatic lipid content (IHL) change allowed us to identify bacteria consortia contributing to the levels of alanine fermentation, methanol-, creatinine-, and protocatechuate degradation and as a result to the plasma concentrations of liver injury markers alanine transaminase, gamma-glutamyl transaminase, and aspartate transaminase. We showed that even though exercise has not a significant impact on the alpha- and beta-diversity of NAFLD patients, it leads to a significant re-structuring of the gut bacteria interactome and that specific structural changes can be linked with improvements in IHL. IMPORTANCE Our study is applying a community-based approach to examine the influence of exercise on gut microbiota (GM) and discover GM structures linked with NAFLD improvements during exercise. The majority of microbiome research has focused on finding specific species that may contribute to the development of human diseases. However, we believe that complex diseases, such as NAFLD, would be more efficiently treated using consortia of species, given that bacterial functionality is based not only on its own genetic information but also on the interaction with other microorganisms. Our results revealed that exercise significantly changes the GM interaction and that structural alterations can be linked with improvements in intrahepatic lipid content and metabolic functions. We believe that the identification of these characteristics in the GM enhances the development of exercise treatment for NAFLD and will attract general interest in this field.


Xiuqiang (Stephen) Chen
Howell Leung
Gianni Panagiotou


*co-first authors, #corresponding authors


doi: 10.1128/msystems.00224-23

PMID: 37606372