Results from high altitude studies in humans and controlled animal experiments suggest that hypoxia exposure induces alterations in gut microbiota composition, which may in turn affect host metabolism. However, well-controlled studies investigating the effects of normobaric hypoxia exposure on gut microbiota composition in humans are lacking. The aim of this study was to explore the impact of mild intermittent hypoxia (MIH) exposure on gut microbiota composition in men with overweight and/or obesity. We performed a randomised, single-blind crossover study, in which participants were exposed to MIH (FiO2: 15%, 3×2 h per day) and normoxia (FiO2: 21%) for seven consecutive days. Following the MIH and normoxia exposure regimens, faecal samples were collected for determination of faecal microbiota composition using 16S rRNA gene-amplicon sequencing in the morning of day 8. Paired faecal samples were available for five individuals. Furthermore, tissue-specific insulin sensitivity was determined using the gold-standard two-step hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. MIH did not affect microbial alpha and beta-diversity but reduced the relative abundance of Christensenellaceae and Clostridiaceae bacterial families. MIH significantly increased the abundances of obligate anaerobic bacterial genera including Fusicatenibacter, Butyricicoccus and Holdemania, whilst reducing Christensenellaceae R-7 group and Clostridium sensu stricto 1, although these findings were not statistically significant after correction for multiple testing. Furthermore, MIH-induced alterations in abundances of several genera were associated with changes in metabolic parameters such as adipose and peripheral insulin sensitivity, plasma levels of insulin, fatty acids, triacylglycerol and lactate, and substrate oxidation. In conclusion, we demonstrate for the first time that MIH exposure induces modest effects on faecal microbiota composition in humans, shifting several bacterial families and genera towards higher abundances of anaerobic butyrate-producing bacteria. Moreover, MIH-induced effects on faecal microbial composition were associated with parameters related to glucose and lipid homeostasis, supporting a link between MIH-induced alterations in faecal microbiota composition and host metabolism. The study was registered at the Netherlands Trial Register: NL7120/NTR7325.
Keywords: anaerobic bacteria; gut microbiota; metabolism, obesity; mild intermittent hypoxia.