Towards a mechanistic understanding of reciprocal drug-microbiome interactions

Mol Syst Biol. 2021 Mar;17(3):e10116. doi: 10.15252/msb.202010116.


Broad-spectrum antibiotics target multiple gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and can collaterally damage the gut microbiota. Yet, our knowledge of the extent of damage, the antibiotic activity spectra, and the resistance mechanisms of gut microbes is sparse. This limits our ability to mitigate microbiome-facilitated spread of antibiotic resistance. In addition to antibiotics, non-antibiotic drugs affect the human microbiome, as shown by metagenomics as well as in vitro studies. Microbiome-drug interactions are bidirectional, as microbes can also modulate drugs. Chemical modifications of antibiotics mostly function as antimicrobial resistance mechanisms, while metabolism of non-antibiotics can also change the drugs' pharmacodynamic, pharmacokinetic, and toxic properties. Recent studies have started to unravel the extensive capacity of gut microbes to metabolize drugs, the mechanisms, and the relevance of such events for drug treatment. These findings raise the question whether and to which degree these reciprocal drug-microbiome interactions will differ across individuals, and how to take them into account in drug discovery and precision medicine. This review describes recent developments in the field and discusses future study areas that will benefit from systems biology approaches to better understand the mechanistic role of the human gut microbiota in drug actions.

Keywords: antibiotics; antimicrobials; human gut microbiome; metagenomics; microbial community.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Interactions*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Metagenomics
  • Microbiota*
  • Systems Biology