Gut metabolites predict Clostridioides difficile recurrence

Microbiome. 2022 Jun 9;10(1):87. doi: 10.1186/s40168-022-01284-1.


Background: Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI) is the most common hospital acquired infection in the USA, with recurrence rates > 15%. Although primary CDI has been extensively linked to gut microbial dysbiosis, less is known about the factors that promote or mitigate recurrence. Moreover, previous studies have not shown that microbial abundances in the gut measured by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing alone can accurately predict CDI recurrence.

Results: We conducted a prospective, longitudinal study of 53 non-immunocompromised participants with primary CDI. Stool sample collection began pre-CDI antibiotic treatment at the time of diagnosis, and continued up to 8 weeks post-antibiotic treatment, with weekly or twice weekly collections. Samples were analyzed using (1) 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, (2) liquid chromatography/mass-spectrometry metabolomics measuring 1387 annotated metabolites, and (3) short-chain fatty acid profiling. The amplicon sequencing data showed significantly delayed recovery of microbial diversity in recurrent participants, and depletion of key anaerobic taxa at multiple time-points, including Clostridium cluster XIVa and IV taxa. The metabolomic data also showed delayed recovery in recurrent participants, and moreover mapped to pathways suggesting distinct functional abnormalities in the microbiome or host, such as decreased microbial deconjugation activity, lowered levels of endocannabinoids, and elevated markers of host cell damage. Further, using predictive statistical/machine learning models, we demonstrated that the metabolomic data, but not the other data sources, can accurately predict future recurrence at 1 week (AUC 0.77 [0.71, 0.86; 95% interval]) and 2 weeks (AUC 0.77 [0.69, 0.85; 95% interval]) post-treatment for primary CDI.

Conclusions: The prospective, longitudinal, and multi-omic nature of our CDI recurrence study allowed us to uncover previously unrecognized dynamics in the microbiome and host presaging recurrence, and, in particular, to elucidate changes in the understudied gut metabolome. Moreover, we demonstrated that a small set of metabolites can accurately predict future recurrence. Our findings have implications for development of diagnostic tests and treatments that could ultimately short-circuit the cycle of CDI recurrence, by providing candidate metabolic biomarkers for diagnostics development, as well as offering insights into the complex microbial and metabolic alterations that are protective or permissive for recurrence. Video Abstract.

Keywords: C. difficile; Gastrointestinal; Human infection; Longitudinal; Metabolomics; Predictive model.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clostridioides
  • Clostridioides difficile* / genetics
  • Clostridium Infections* / therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Recurrence


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S