The gut microbiota and gastrointestinal surgery

Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Jan;14(1):43-54. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2016.139. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


Surgery involving the gastrointestinal tract continues to prove challenging because of the persistence of unpredictable complications such as anastomotic leakage and life-threatening infections. Removal of diseased intestinal segments results in substantial catabolic stress and might require complex reconstructive surgery to maintain the functional continuity of the intestinal tract. As gastrointestinal surgery necessarily involves a breach of an epithelial barrier colonized by microorganisms, preoperative intestinal antisepsis is used to reduce infection-related complications. The current approach to intestinal antisepsis varies widely across institutions and countries with little understanding of its mechanism of action, effect on the gut microbiota and overall efficacy. Many of the current approaches to intestinal antisepsis before gastrointestinal surgery run counter to emerging concepts of intestinal microbiota contributing to immune function and recovery from injury. Here, we review evidence outlining the role of gut microbiota in recovery from gastrointestinal surgery, particularly in the development of infections and anastomotic leak. To make surgery safer and further reduce complications, a molecular, genetic and functional understanding of the response of the gastrointestinal tract to alterations in its microbiota is needed. Methods can then be developed to preserve the health-promoting functions of the microbiota while at the same time suppressing their harmful effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Anastomotic Leak / etiology
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures*
  • Disinfection
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Humans
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Preoperative Care
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control


  • Anti-Infective Agents