Gut microbiota changes in the extreme decades of human life: a focus on centenarians

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2018 Jan;75(1):129-148. doi: 10.1007/s00018-017-2674-y. Epub 2017 Oct 14.


The gut microbiota (GM) is a complex, evolutionarily molded ecological system, which contributes to a variety of physiological functions. The GM is highly dynamic, being sensitive to environmental stimuli, and its composition changes over the host's entire lifespan. However, the basic question of how much these changes may be ascribed to variables such as population, diet, genetics and gender, and/or to the aging process per se is still largely unanswered. We argue that comparison among studies on centenarians-the best model of healthy aging and longevity-recruited from different geographical areas/populations (different genetics and dietary habits) can help to disentangle the contribution of aging and non-aging-related variables to GM remodeling with age. The current review focuses on the role of population, gender and host genetics as possible drivers of GM modification along the human aging process. The feedback impact of age-associated GM variation on the GM-brain axis and GM metabolomics is also discussed. We likewise address the role of GM in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and its possible therapeutic use, taking advantage of the fact that centenarians are characterized by an extreme (healthy) phenotype versus patients suffering from age-related pathologies. Finally, it is argued that longitudinal studies combining metagenomics sequencing and in-depth phylogenetic analysis with a comprehensive phenotypic characterization of centenarians and patients using up-to-date omics (metabolomics, transcriptomics and meta-transcriptomics) are urgently needed.

Keywords: Aging; Centenarians; Gut microbiota; Gut–brain axis; Host genome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Longevity / genetics
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Male