The mammalian gut microbiome (GM) plays a critical role in xenobiotic biotransformation and can profoundly affect the toxic effects of xenobiotics. Previous in vitro studies have demonstrated that gut bacteria have the capability to metabolize arsenic (As); however, the specific roles of the gut microbiota in As metabolism in vivo and the toxic effects of As are largely unknown. Here, we administered sodium arsenite to conventionally raised mice (with normal microbiomes) and GM-disrupted mice with antibiotics to investigate the role of the gut microbiota in As biotransformation and its toxicity. We found that the urinary total As levels of GM-disrupted mice were much higher, but the fecal total As levels were lower, than the levels in the conventionally raised mice. In vitro experiments, in which the GM was incubated with As, also demonstrated that the gut bacteria could adsorb or take up As and thus reduce the free As levels in the culture medium. With the disruption of the gut microbiota, arsenic biotransformation was significantly perturbed. Of note, the urinary monomethylarsonic acid/dimethylarsinic acid ratio, a biomarker of arsenic metabolism and toxicity, was markedly increased. Meanwhile, the expression of genes of one-carbon metabolism, including folr2, bhmt, and mthfr, was downregulated, and the liver S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) levels were significantly decreased in the As-treated GM-disrupted mice only. Moreover, As exposure altered the expression of genes of the p53 signaling pathway, and the expression of multiple genes associated with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was also changed in the As-treated GM-disrupted mice only. Collectively, disruption of the GM enhances the effect of As on one-carbon metabolism, which could in turn affect As biotransformation. GM disruption also increases the toxic effects of As and may increase the risk of As-induced HCC in mice.
Keywords: Arsenic biotransformation; Gut bacteria; Methylation; Microbiome; One-carbon metabolism.