The gut microbial endocrine organ: bacterially derived signals driving cardiometabolic diseases

Annu Rev Med. 2015:66:343-59. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-060513-093205.


The human gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria, which vastly outnumber host cells in the body. Although generally overlooked in the field of endocrinology, gut microbial symbionts organize to form a key endocrine organ that converts nutritional cues from the environment into hormone-like signals that impact both normal physiology and chronic disease in the human host. Recent evidence suggests that several gut microbial-derived products are sensed by dedicated host receptor systems to alter cardiovascular disease (CVD) progression. In fact, gut microbial metabolism of dietary components results in the production of proatherogenic circulating factors that act through a meta-organismal endocrine axis to impact CVD risk. Whether pharmacological interventions at the level of the gut microbial endocrine organ will reduce CVD risk is a key new question in the field of cardiovascular medicine. Here we discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in targeting meta-organismal endocrinology for CVD prevention.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; cardiovascular disease; microbiota; trimethylamine-N-oxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / microbiology*
  • Diet*
  • Endocrine System
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Methylamines / metabolism
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism


  • Methylamines
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • trimethyloxamine