Host and gut bacteria share metabolic pathways for anti-cancer drug metabolism

Nat Microbiol. 2022 Oct;7(10):1605-1620. doi: 10.1038/s41564-022-01226-5. Epub 2022 Sep 22.


Pharmaceuticals have extensive reciprocal interactions with the microbiome, but whether bacterial drug sensitivity and metabolism is driven by pathways conserved in host cells remains unclear. Here we show that anti-cancer fluoropyrimidine drugs inhibit the growth of gut bacterial strains from 6 phyla. In both Escherichia coli and mammalian cells, fluoropyrimidines disrupt pyrimidine metabolism. Proteobacteria and Firmicutes metabolized 5-fluorouracil to its inactive metabolite dihydrofluorouracil, mimicking the major host mechanism for drug clearance. The preTA operon was necessary and sufficient for 5-fluorouracil inactivation by E. coli, exhibited high catalytic efficiency for the reductive reaction, decreased the bioavailability and efficacy of oral fluoropyrimidine treatment in mice and was prevalent in the gut microbiomes of colorectal cancer patients. The conservation of both the targets and enzymes for metabolism of therapeutics across domains highlights the need to distinguish the relative contributions of human and microbial cells to drug efficacy and side-effect profiles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / metabolism
  • Fluorouracil / metabolism
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Mice


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Fluorouracil