A compelling set of links between the composition of the gut microbiota, the host diet, and host physiology has emerged. Do these links reflect cause-and-effect relationships, and what might be their mechanistic basis? A growing body of work implicates microbially produced metabolites as crucial executors of diet-based microbial influence on the host. Here, we will review data supporting the diverse functional roles carried out by a major class of bacterial metabolites, the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs can directly activate G-coupled-receptors, inhibit histone deacetylases, and serve as energy substrates. They thus affect various physiological processes and may contribute to health and disease.
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