Correlation network analysis reveals relationships between diet-induced changes in human gut microbiota and metabolic health

Nutr Diabetes. 2014 Jun 30;4(6):e122. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2014.18.


Background: Recent evidence suggests that the gut microbiota plays an important role in human metabolism and energy homeostasis and is therefore a relevant factor in the assessment of metabolic health and flexibility. Understanding of these host-microbiome interactions aids the design of nutritional strategies that act via modulation of the microbiota. Nevertheless, relating gut microbiota composition to host health states remains challenging because of the sheer complexity of these ecosystems and the large degrees of interindividual variation in human microbiota composition.

Methods: We assessed fecal microbiota composition and host response patterns of metabolic and inflammatory markers in 10 apparently healthy men subjected to a high-fat high-caloric diet (HFHC, 1300 kcal/day extra) for 4 weeks. DNA was isolated from stool and barcoded 16S rRNA gene amplicons were sequenced. Metabolic health parameters, including anthropomorphic and blood parameters, where determined at t=0 and t=4 weeks.

Results: A correlation network approach revealed diet-induced changes in Bacteroides levels related to changes in carbohydrate oxidation rates, whereas the change in Firmicutes correlates with changes in fat oxidation. These results were confirmed by multivariate models. We identified correlations between microbial diversity indices and several inflammation-related host parameters that suggest a relation between diet-induced changes in gut microbiota diversity and inflammatory processes.

Conclusions: This approach allowed us to identify significant correlations between abundances of microbial taxa and diet-induced shifts in several metabolic health parameters. Constructed correlation networks provide an overview of these relations, revealing groups of correlations that are of particular interest for explaining host health aspects through changes in the gut microbiota.