Gut Microbiota Mediates the Protective Effects of Dietary Capsaicin against Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation and Associated Obesity Induced by High-Fat Diet

mBio. 2017 May 23;8(3):e00470-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00470-17.


Metabolic endotoxemia originating from dysbiotic gut microbiota has been identified as a primary mediator for triggering the chronic low-grade inflammation (CLGI) responsible for the development of obesity. Capsaicin (CAP) is the major pungent bioactivator in chili peppers and has potent anti-obesity functions, yet the mechanisms linking this effect to gut microbiota remain obscure. Here we show that mice fed a high-fat diet (HFD) supplemented with CAP exhibit lower levels of metabolic endotoxemia and CLGI associated with lower body weight gain. High-resolution responses of the microbiota were examined by 16S rRNA sequencing, short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) measurements, and phylogenetic reconstruction of unobserved states (PICRUSt) analysis. The results showed, among others, that dietary CAP induced increased levels of butyrate-producing Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae, while it caused lower levels of members of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-producing family S24_7. Predicted function analysis (PICRUSt) showed depletion of genes involved in bacterial LPS synthesis in response to CAP. We further identified that inhibition of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) by CAP also contributes to prevention of HFD-induced gut barrier dysfunction. Importantly, fecal microbiota transplantation experiments conducted in germfree mice demonstrated that dietary CAP-induced protection against HFD-induced obesity is transferrable. Moreover, microbiota depletion by a cocktail of antibiotics was sufficient to block the CAP-induced protective phenotype against obesity, further suggesting the role of microbiota in this context. Together, our findings uncover an interaction between dietary CAP and gut microbiota as a novel mechanism for the anti-obesity effect of CAP acting through prevention of microbial dysbiosis, gut barrier dysfunction, and chronic low-grade inflammation.IMPORTANCE Metabolic endotoxemia due to gut microbial dysbiosis is a major contributor to the pathogenesis of chronic low-grade inflammation (CLGI), which primarily mediates the development of obesity. A dietary strategy to reduce endotoxemia appears to be an effective approach for addressing the issue of obesity. Capsaicin (CAP) is the major pungent component in red chili (genus Capsicum). Little is known about the role of gut microbiota in the anti-obesity effect of CAP. High-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed that CAP significantly increased butyragenic bacteria and decreased LPS-producing bacteria (e.g., members of the S24-7 family) and LPS biosynthesis. By using antibiotics and microbiota transplantation, we prove that gut microbiota plays a causal role in dietary CAP-induced protective phenotype against high-fat-diet-induced CLGI and obesity. Moreover, CB1 inhibition was partially involved in the beneficial effect of CAP. Together, these data suggest that the gut microbiome is a critical factor for the anti-obesity effects of CAP.

Keywords: capsaicin; chronic low-grade inflammation; gut barrier; gut microbiota; metabolic endotoxemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dysbiosis / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Mice
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Capsaicin