Regulation of endocrine systems by the microbiome: Perspectives from comparative animal models

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2020 Jun 1;292:113437. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2020.113437. Epub 2020 Feb 12.


The microbiome regulates endocrine systems and influences many aspects of hormone signaling. Using examples from different animal taxa, we highlight the state of the science in microbiome research as it relates to endocrinology and endocrine disruption research. Using a comparative approach discussing fish, birds, and mammals, we demonstrate the bidirectional interaction between microbiota and hormone systems, presenting concepts that include (1) gastrointestinal microbiome regulation of the neuroendocrine feeding axis; (2) stress hormones and microbial communities; (3) the role of site-specific microbiota in animal reproduction; (4) microbiome effects on the neuroendocrine systems and behavior; and (5) novel mechanisms of endocrine disruption through the microbiome. This mini-review demonstrates that hormones can directly affect the richness and diversity of microbiota and conversely, microbiota can influence hormone production and mediate their functions in animals. In addition, microbiota can influence the action of a diverse range of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in the central nervous system, which can lead to behavioral disruptions. As many animals have species-specific reproductive behaviors, it is important to understand how shifts in the microbiota relate to these complex interactions between sexes. This is especially important for captive animals on specialized diets, and there are significant implications for microbiome research in conservation and reproductive biology. For example, microbial metabolites may modify motility of gametes or modulate hormone-receptor interactions in reproductive tissues. Thus, efforts to incorporate metabolomics into the science of microbiome-endocrine relationships, both those produced by the host and those generated from microbial metabolism, are increasingly needed. These concepts have fostered an exciting emerging era in comparative endocrinology.

Keywords: Animal behavior; Conservation endocrinology; Endocrine disruption; Microbiome; Reproduction; Stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity
  • Endocrine System / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Microbiota* / drug effects
  • Models, Animal*
  • Reproduction / drug effects


  • Endocrine Disruptors