Background: Obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are linked both with host genetics and with environmental factors, including dysbioses of the gut microbiota. However, it is unclear whether these microbial changes precede disease onset. Twin cohorts present a unique genetically-controlled opportunity to study the relationships between lifestyle factors and the microbiome. In particular, we hypothesized that family-independent changes in microbial composition and metabolic function during the sub-clinical state of T2D could be either causal or early biomarkers of progression.
Methods: We collected fecal samples and clinical metadata from 20 monozygotic Korean twins at up to two time points, resulting in 36 stool shotgun metagenomes. While the participants were neither obese nor diabetic, they spanned the entire range of healthy to near-clinical values and thus enabled the study of microbial associations during sub-clinical disease while accounting for genetic background.
Results: We found changes both in composition and in function of the sub-clinical gut microbiome, including a decrease in Akkermansia muciniphila suggesting a role prior to the onset of disease, and functional changes reflecting a response to oxidative stress comparable to that previously observed in chronic T2D and inflammatory bowel diseases. Finally, our unique study design allowed us to examine the strain similarity between twins, and we found that twins demonstrate strain-level differences in composition despite species-level similarities.
Conclusions: These changes in the microbiome might be used for the early diagnosis of an inflamed gut and T2D prior to clinical onset of the disease and will help to advance toward microbial interventions.