Gut microbial metabolites as multi-kingdom intermediates

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2021 Feb;19(2):77-94. doi: 10.1038/s41579-020-0438-4. Epub 2020 Sep 23.


The gut microbiota contributes to host physiology through the production of a myriad of metabolites. These metabolites exert their effects within the host as signalling molecules and substrates for metabolic reactions. Although the study of host-microbiota interactions remains challenging due to the high degree of crosstalk both within and between kingdoms, metabolite-focused research has identified multiple actionable microbial targets that are relevant for host health. Metabolites, as the functional output of combined host and microorganism interactions, provide a snapshot in time of an extraordinarily complex multi-organism system. Although substantial work remains towards understanding host-microbiota interactions and the underlying mechanisms, we review the current state of knowledge for each of the major classes of microbial metabolites with emphasis on clinical and translational research implications. We provide an overview of methodologies available for measurement of microbial metabolites, and in addition to discussion of key challenges, we provide a potential framework for integration of discovery-based metabolite studies with mechanistic work. Finally, we highlight examples in the literature where this approach has led to substantial progress in understanding host-microbiota interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Fermentation / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolome / physiology*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman