Multidisciplinary approach to determine the effect of polybrominated diphenyl ethers on gut microbiota

Environ Pollut. 2020 May;260:113920. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.113920. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Environmental health is increasingly compromised by persistent toxic substances, which may have serious implications in food safety and, thus, in human health. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are anthropogenic contaminants with endocrine disruption abilities and are commonly found in seafood, the main route of human exposure. Growing evidence points out that the human gut microbiota interacts with xenobiotics, which may lead to impairment of host homeostasis if functions of microbiota become compromised. The aim of this study was to ascertain if the physiological balance of human gut microbiome is affected by the presence and degree of exposure to PBDEs. Fermentation was performed in a batch closed-system using an inoculum made from fresh human stool. The volatolomic profile was analysed by solid-phase microextraction coupled to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Mesophilic, Gram-negative bacteria and coliforms were quantified by classic plating methods. Changes in the gut microbiome were evaluated after DNA extraction followed by deep sequencing of the 16S rDNA region. The exposure to PBDEs resulted in an imbalance in sulfur, short-chain fatty acids and aromatic organic compounds, changing the microbial volatolome in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Slight deviations in the microbial structure of human gut occurred in the presence of PBDEs, especially for high doses of exposure. For the first time, the impact of PBDEs on the microbial homeostasis of human gut microbiota was taken into consideration, revealing noteworthy modifications with serious health implications even at oral exposure doses considered as safe by worldwide regulatory entities.

Keywords: 16S rDNA sequencing; GC/MS; Human gut microbiota; PBDEs; Volatolomics.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / drug effects
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers* / toxicity
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Xenobiotics


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Xenobiotics