The gut microbiome and elevated cardiovascular risk in obesity and autoimmunity

Atherosclerosis. 2018 Apr;271:203-213. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2018.02.036. Epub 2018 Mar 2.


Cardiovascular disease associated with obesity and autoimmunity is the leading cause of death in these populations and significant residual risk remains despite current treatment approaches. Obesity, type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are linked to chronic inflammation, and subjects with these disorders have characteristic shifts in their gut microbiome composition. Recent data suggest that alterations in gut microbial and metabolic composition may be responsible, in part, for induction of chronic inflammation, thus promoting cardiovascular disease. Common microbiome changes observed in obesity, T1DM, RA, and SLE include a decrease in the ratio of bacteria, such as Gram-positive Firmicutes to Gram-negative Bacteroidetes, as well as an overabundance or depletion of certain species, including Prevotella copri. The consequent effects of these shifts include alterations in the metabolic composition of the gut, hyper-activation of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4), upregulation of inflammatory pathways, e.g. c-Jun N-terminal kinase and nuclear factor-kappa B (NFκB), increased intestinal permeability, increased C-reactive protein, and increased levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Differential microbiome compositions may also explain sex differences observed in autoimmunity, where a male gut microbiome promotes anti-inflammatory processes as compared to a female pro-inflammatory gut microbiome. Intervention at the level of the microbiota appears to attenuate symptoms in these inflammatory syndromes with probiotic treatment, such as Lactobacilli, playing a uniquely beneficial role in restoring intestinal health, decreasing inflammation, and reducing cardiovascular disease. This review will discuss obesity, T1DM, RA, and SLE in the context of how each unique microbiome profile contributes to elevated cardiovascular risk.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Inflammation; Microbiota; Obesity; Rheumatoid arthritis; Short-chain fatty acids; Systemic lupus erythematosus; Type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / microbiology*
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / immunology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / microbiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / immunology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / microbiology
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Transduction


  • Inflammation Mediators