Early-Life Sugar Consumption Affects the Rat Microbiome Independently of Obesity

J Nutr. 2017 Jan;147(1):20-28. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.238816. Epub 2016 Nov 30.


Background: The gut microbiome has been implicated in various metabolic and neurocognitive disorders and is heavily influenced by dietary factors, but there is a paucity of research on the effects of added sugars on the gut microbiome.

Objective: With the use of a rodent model, our goal was to determine how added-sugar consumption during the juvenile and adolescent phase of development affects the gut microbiome.

Methods: Forty-two juvenile male Sprague-Dawley rats [postnatal day (PND) 26; 50-70 g] were given access to 1 of 3 different 11%-carbohydrate solutions designed to model a range of monosaccharide ratios commonly consumed in sugar-sweetened beverages: 1) 35% fructose:65% glucose, 2) 50% fructose:50% glucose, 3) 65% fructose:35% glucose, and 4) control (no sugar). After ad libitum access to the respective solutions for the juvenile and adolescent period (PND 26-80), fecal samples were collected for next-generation 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing and multivariate microbial composition analyses. Energy intake, weight change, and adiposity index were analyzed in relation to sugar consumption and the microbiota.

Results: Body weight, adiposity index, and total caloric intake did not differ as a result of sugar consumption. However, sugar consumption altered the gut microbiome independently of anthropometric measures and caloric intake. At the genus level, Prevotella [linear discriminant analysis (LDA) score = -4.62; P < 0.001] and Lachnospiraceae incertae sedis (LDA score = -3.01; P = 0.03) were reduced, whereas Bacteroides (LDA score = 4.19; P < 0.001), Alistipes (LDA score = 3.88; P < 0.001), Lactobacillus (LDA score = 3.78; P < 0.001), Clostridium sensu stricto (LDA score = 3.77; P < 0.001), Bifidobacteriaceae (LDA score = 3.59; P = 0.001), and Parasutterella (LDA score = 3.79; P = 0.004) were elevated by sugar consumption. No overall pattern could be attributable to monosaccharide ratio.

Conclusions: Early-life sugar consumption affects the gut microbiome in rats independently of caloric intake, body weight, or adiposity index; these effects are robust across a range of fructose-to-glucose ratios.

Keywords: adolescence; fructose; glucose; gut microbiota; juvenile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Fructose / administration & dosage*
  • Glucose / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Fructose
  • Glucose