Persistent Organic Pollutants Modify Gut Microbiota-Host Metabolic Homeostasis in Mice Through Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Jul;123(7):679-88. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409055. Epub 2015 Mar 13.


Background: Alteration of the gut microbiota through diet and environmental contaminants may disturb physiological homeostasis, leading to various diseases including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Because most exposure to environmentally persistent organic pollutants (POPs) occurs through the diet, the host gastrointestinal tract and commensal gut microbiota are likely to be exposed to POPs.

Objectives: We examined the effect of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzofuran (TCDF), a persistent environmental contaminant, on gut microbiota and host metabolism, and we examined correlations between gut microbiota composition and signaling pathways.

Methods: Six-week-old male wild-type and Ahr-/- mice on the C57BL/6J background were treated with 24 μg/kg TCDF in the diet for 5 days. We used 16S rRNA gene sequencing, 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) metabolomics, targeted ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled with triplequadrupole mass spectrometry, and biochemical assays to determine the microbiota compositions and the physiological and metabolic effects of TCDF.

Results: Dietary TCDF altered the gut microbiota by shifting the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. TCDF-treated mouse cecal contents were enriched with Butyrivibrio spp. but depleted in Oscillobacter spp. compared with vehicle-treated mice. These changes in the gut microbiota were associated with altered bile acid metabolism. Further, dietary TCDF inhibited the farnesoid X receptor (FXR) signaling pathway, triggered significant inflammation and host metabolic disorders as a result of activation of bacterial fermentation, and altered hepatic lipogenesis, gluconeogenesis, and glycogenolysis in an AHR-dependent manner.

Conclusion: These findings provide new insights into the biochemical consequences of TCDF exposure involving the alteration of the gut microbiota, modulation of nuclear receptor signaling, and disruption of host metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzofurans / toxicity*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Homeostasis
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metabolomics
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Microbiota / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / metabolism
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / genetics
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Benzofurans
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor
  • 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzofuran