The Critical Roles of Polysaccharides in Gut Microbial Ecology and Physiology

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2017 Sep 8;71:349-369. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-102215-095316. Epub 2017 Jun 28.


The human intestine harbors a dense microbial ecosystem (microbiota) that is different between individuals, dynamic over time, and critical for aspects of health and disease. Dietary polysaccharides directly shape the microbiota because of a gap in human digestive physiology, which is equipped to assimilate only proteins, lipids, simple sugars, and starch, leaving nonstarch polysaccharides as major nutrients reaching the microbiota. A mutualistic role of gut microbes is to digest dietary complex carbohydrates, liberating host-absorbable energy via fermentation products. Emerging data indicate that polysaccharides play extensive roles in host-gut microbiota symbiosis beyond dietary polysaccharide digestion, including microbial interactions with endogenous host glycans and the importance of microbial polysaccharides. In this review, we consider multiple mechanisms through which polysaccharides mediate aspects of host-microbe symbiosis in the gut, including some affecting health. As host and microbial metabolic pathways are intimately connected with diet, we highlight the potential to manipulate this system for health.

Keywords: capsules; carbohydrate digestion; glycans; microbiome; microbiota; polysaccharides.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Microbiota*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Symbiosis*


  • Polysaccharides