Butyrate Differentiates Permissiveness to Clostridioides difficile Infection and Influences Growth of Diverse C. difficile Isolates

Infect Immun. 2023 Feb 16;91(2):e0057022. doi: 10.1128/iai.00570-22. Epub 2023 Jan 24.


A disrupted "dysbiotic" gut microbiome engenders susceptibility to the diarrheal pathogen Clostridioides difficile by impacting the metabolic milieu of the gut. Diet, in particular the microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs) found in dietary fiber, is one of the most powerful ways to affect the composition and metabolic output of the gut microbiome. As such, diet is a powerful tool for understanding the biology of C. difficile and for developing alternative approaches for coping with this pathogen. One prominent class of metabolites produced by the gut microbiome is short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), the major metabolic end products of MAC metabolism. SCFAs are known to decrease the fitness of C. difficile in vitro, and high intestinal SCFA concentrations are associated with reduced fitness of C. difficile in animal models of C. difficile infection (CDI). Here, we use controlled dietary conditions (8 diets that differ only by MAC composition) to show that C. difficile fitness is most consistently impacted by butyrate, rather than the other two prominent SCFAs (acetate and propionate), during murine model CDI. We similarly show that butyrate concentrations are lower in fecal samples from humans with CDI than in those from healthy controls. Finally, we demonstrate that butyrate impacts growth in diverse C. difficile isolates. These findings provide a foundation for future work which will dissect how butyrate directly impacts C. difficile fitness and will lead to the development of diverse approaches distinct from antibiotics or fecal transplant, such as dietary interventions, for mitigating CDI in at-risk human populations. IMPORTANCE Clostridioides difficile is a leading cause of infectious diarrhea in humans, and it imposes a tremendous burden on the health care system. Current treatments for C. difficile infection (CDI) include antibiotics and fecal microbiota transplant, which contribute to recurrent CDIs and face major regulatory hurdles, respectively. Therefore, there is an ongoing need to develop new ways to cope with CDI. Notably, a disrupted "dysbiotic" gut microbiota is the primary risk factor for CDI, but we incompletely understand how a healthy microbiota resists CDI. Here, we show that a specific molecule produced by the gut microbiota, butyrate, is negatively associated with C. difficile burdens in humans and in a mouse model of CDI and that butyrate impedes the growth of diverse C. difficile strains in pure culture. These findings help to build a foundation for designing alternative, possibly diet-based, strategies for mitigating CDI in humans.

Keywords: bacterial pathogenesis; microbial metabolites; microbiome; microbiota.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Butyrates
  • Clostridioides difficile*
  • Clostridium Infections*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Permissiveness


  • Butyrates
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile