Genetic and environmental circadian disruption induce weight gain through changes in the gut microbiome

Mol Metab. 2022 Nov 2;66:101628. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2022.101628. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Internal clocks time behavior and physiology, including the gut microbiome, in a circadian (∼24 h) manner. Mismatch between internal and external time, e.g. during shift work, disrupts circadian system coordination promoting the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Conversely, body weight changes induce microbiota dysbiosis. The relationship between circadian disruption and microbiota dysbiosis in metabolic diseases, however, remains largely unknown.

Methods: Core and accessory clock gene expression in different gastrointestinal (GI) tissues were determined by qPCR in two different models of circadian disruption - mice with Bmal1 deficiency in the circadian pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (Bmal1SCNfl/-), and wild-type mice exposed to simulated shift work (SSW). Body composition and energy balance were evaluated by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), bomb calorimetry, food intake and running-wheel activity. Intestinal permeability was measured in an Ussing chamber. Microbiota composition and functionality were evaluated by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, PICRUST2.0 analysis and targeted metabolomics. Finally, microbiota transfer was conducted to evaluate the functional impact of SSW-associated microbiota on the host's physiology.

Results: Both chronodisruption models show desynchronization within and between peripheral clocks in GI tissues and reduced microbial rhythmicity, in particular in taxa involved in short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) fermentation and lipid metabolism. In Bmal1SCNfl/- mice, loss of rhythmicity in microbial functioning associates with previously shown increased body weight, dysfunctional glucose homeostasis and adiposity. Similarly, we observe an increase in body weight in SSW mice. Germ-free colonization experiments with SSW-associated microbiota mechanistically link body weight gain to microbial changes. Moreover, alterations in expression of peripheral clock genes as well as clock-controlled genes (CCGs) relevant for metabolic functioning of the host were observed in recipients, indicating a bidirectional relationship between microbiota rhythmicity and peripheral clock regulation.

Conclusions: Collectively, our data suggest that loss of rhythmicity in bacteria taxa and their products, which likely originates in desynchronization of intestinal clocks, promotes metabolic abnormalities during shift work.

Keywords: Bile acids; Circadian rhythm; Microbiota; SCN; Shift work; Short chain fatty acids.