Humans lack the enzymes needed to metabolize endogenous and dietary oxalate, a toxic compound causing hyperoxaluria and calcium oxalate urolithiasis. Oxalate in humans can be eliminated through (1) excretion in urine, (2) forming insoluble calcium oxalate and elimination in feces, or (3) oxalate degradation by gastrointestinal (GIT) microorganisms. In this article, anaerobic oxalate catabolism in gut bacteria is reviewed, and the possible use of these bacteria as probiotics for treating kidney stone disease is evaluated. Oxalobacter formigenes and Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are the best studied in this regard, with oxalate degradation in the lactic acid bacteria being both species- and strain-specific. The GIT oxalate-degrading bacteria express the catabolic enzymes formyl-CoA transferase (Frc) and oxalyl-CoA decarboxylase (Oxc). The genes encoding these proteins are clustered on the genomes and show strong phylogenetic relationships. Clinical trials investigating reduced hyperoxaluria through administering O. formigenes or its enzymes show a promising trend, but the data need confirmation through larger scale, well-controlled trials. Similar studies using Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species also show in vivo oxalate reduction, but these data are still controversial. In particular, further investigations need to determine whether there is a direct link between the lack of oxalate-degrading bacteria and hyperoxaluria and whether their absence is a risk factor. Key experiments linking microbial numbers, functional oxalate degradation, molecular analysis of the regulation of the genes involved, and the ability of the bacteria to survive in the gut are crucial elements in identifying suitable probiotics for treating kidney stone disease.
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