The gut microbiome influences host diet selection behavior

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Apr 26;119(17):e2117537119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2117537119. Epub 2022 Apr 19.


Diet selection is a fundamental aspect of animal behavior with numerous ecological and evolutionary implications. While the underlying mechanisms are complex, the availability of essential dietary nutrients can strongly influence diet selection behavior. The gut microbiome has been shown to metabolize many of these same nutrients, leading to the untested hypothesis that intestinal microbiota may influence diet selection. Here, we show that germ-free mice colonized by gut microbiota from three rodent species with distinct foraging strategies differentially selected diets that varied in macronutrient composition. Specifically, we found that herbivore-conventionalized mice voluntarily selected a higher protein:carbohydrate (P:C) ratio diet, while omnivore- and carnivore-conventionalized mice selected a lower P:C ratio diet. In support of the long-standing hypothesis that tryptophan—the essential amino acid precursor of serotonin—serves as a peripheral signal regulating diet selection, bacterial genes involved in tryptophan metabolism and plasma tryptophan availability prior to the selection trial were significantly correlated with subsequent voluntary carbohydrate intake. Finally, herbivore-conventionalized mice exhibited larger intestinal compartments associated with microbial fermentation, broadly reflecting the intestinal morphology of their donor species. Together, these results demonstrate that gut microbiome can influence host diet selection behavior, perhaps by mediating the availability of essential amino acids, thereby revealing a mechanism by which the gut microbiota can influence host foraging behavior.

Keywords: animal behavior; diet choice; gut microbiome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / physiology
  • Intestines
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*