Multi-omics analyses of radiation survivors identify radioprotective microbes and metabolites

Science. 2020 Oct 30;370(6516):eaay9097. doi: 10.1126/science.aay9097.


Ionizing radiation causes acute radiation syndrome, which leads to hematopoietic, gastrointestinal, and cerebrovascular injuries. We investigated a population of mice that recovered from high-dose radiation to live normal life spans. These "elite-survivors" harbored distinct gut microbiota that developed after radiation and protected against radiation-induced damage and death in both germ-free and conventionally housed recipients. Elevated abundances of members of the bacterial taxa Lachnospiraceae and Enterococcaceae were associated with postradiation restoration of hematopoiesis and gastrointestinal repair. These bacteria were also found to be more abundant in leukemia patients undergoing radiotherapy, who also displayed milder gastrointestinal dysfunction. In our study in mice, metabolomics revealed increased fecal concentrations of microbially derived propionate and tryptophan metabolites in elite-survivors. The administration of these metabolites caused long-term radioprotection, mitigation of hematopoietic and gastrointestinal syndromes, and a reduction in proinflammatory responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Radiation Syndrome / microbiology*
  • Acute Radiation Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Acute Radiation Syndrome / therapy
  • Animals
  • Clostridiales / metabolism*
  • Enterococcaceae / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / therapeutic use
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Metabolomics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Radiation Protection*
  • Survivors
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Tryptophan