Microbial-Derived Metabolites Reflect an Altered Intestinal Microbiota during Catch-Up Growth in Undernourished Neonatal Mice

J Nutr. 2016 May;146(5):940-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.229179. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


Background: Protein-energy undernutrition during early development confers a lifelong increased risk of obesity-related metabolic disease. Mechanisms by which metabolic abnormalities persist despite catch-up growth are poorly understood.

Objective: We sought to determine whether abnormal metabolomic and intestinal microbiota profiles from undernourished neonatal mice remain altered during catch-up growth.

Methods: Male and female CD1 mouse pups were undernourished by timed separation from lactating dams for 4 h at 5 d of age, 8 h at 6 d of age, and 12 h/d from 7 to 15 d of age, then resumed ad libitum nursing, whereas controls fed uninterrupted. Both groups were weaned simultaneously to a standard unpurified diet. At 3 time points (0, 1, and 3 wk after ending feed deprivation), metabolites in urine, plasma, and stool were identified with the use of mass spectrometry, and fecal microbes were identified with the use of 16S metagenomic sequencing.

Results: Undernourished mice completely recovered deficits of 36% weight and 9% length by 3 wk of refeeding, at which time they had 1.4-fold higher plasma phenyllactate and 2.0-fold higher urinary p-cresol sulfate concentrations than did controls. Plasma serotonin concentrations in undernourished mice were 25% lower at 0 wk but 1.5-fold higher than in controls at 3 wk. Whereas most urine and plasma metabolites normalized with refeeding, 117 fecal metabolites remained altered at 3 wk, including multiple N-linked glycans. Microbiota profiles from undernourished mice also remained distinct, with lower mean proportions of Bacteroidetes (67% compared with 83%) and higher proportions of Firmicutes (26% compared with 16%). Abundances of the mucolytic organisms Akkermansia muciniphila and Mucispirillum schaedleri were altered at 0 and 1 wk. Whereas microbiota from undernourished mice at 0 wk contained 11% less community diversity (P = 0.015), refed mice at 3 wk harbored 1.2-fold greater diversity (P = 0.0006) than did controls.

Conclusion: Microbial-derived metabolites and intestinal microbiota remain altered during catch-up growth in undernourished neonatal mice.

Keywords: N-linked glycans; metabolomics; metagenomics; mucolytic bacteria; neonatal mice; one-carbon metabolism; p-cresol sulfate; phenyllactate; protein-energy undernutrition; serotonin.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacteroidetes / growth & development
  • Bacteroidetes / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cresols / urine
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Firmicutes / growth & development
  • Firmicutes / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Growth*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Lactates / blood
  • Male
  • Metagenomics
  • Mice
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / microbiology
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / diet therapy
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / metabolism
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / microbiology*
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters / urine
  • Weaning
  • Weight Gain*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cresols
  • Lactates
  • Polysaccharides
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters
  • Serotonin
  • 4-cresol sulfate