Stool microRNA profiles reflect different dietary and gut microbiome patterns in healthy individuals

Gut. 2021 Jul 27;gutjnl-2021-325168. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325168. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: MicroRNA (miRNA) profiles have been evaluated in several biospecimens in relation to common diseases for which diet may have a considerable impact. We aimed at characterising how specific diets are associated with the miRNome in stool of vegans, vegetarians and omnivores and how this is reflected in the gut microbial composition, as this is still poorly explored.

Design: We performed small RNA and shotgun metagenomic sequencing in faecal samples and dietary recording from 120 healthy volunteers, equally distributed for the different diets and matched for sex and age.

Results: We found 49 miRNAs differentially expressed among vegans, vegetarians and omnivores (adj. p <0.05) and confirmed trends of expression levels of such miRNAs in vegans and vegetarians compared with an independent cohort of 45 omnivores. Two miRNAs related to lipid metabolism, miR-636 and miR-4739, were inversely correlated to the non-omnivorous diet duration, independently of subject age. Seventeen miRNAs correlated (|rho|>0.22, adj. p <0.05) with the estimated intake of nutrients, particularly animal proteins, phosphorus and, interestingly, lipids. In omnivores, higher Prevotella and Roseburia and lower Bacteroides abundances than in vegans and vegetarians were observed. Lipid metabolism-related miR-425-3p and miR-638 expression levels were associated with increased abundances of microbial species, such as Roseburia sp. CAG 182 and Akkermansia muciniphila, specific of different diets. An integrated analysis identified 25 miRNAs, 25 taxa and 7 dietary nutrients that clearly discriminated (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve=0.89) the three diets.

Conclusion: Stool miRNA profiles are associated with specific diets and support the role of lipids as a driver of epigenetic changes and host-microbial molecular interactions in the gut.

Keywords: colonic microflora; diet; molecular genetics.