Microbiota-derived tryptophan catabolites mediate the chemopreventive effects of statins on colorectal cancer

Nat Microbiol. 2023 May;8(5):919-933. doi: 10.1038/s41564-023-01363-5. Epub 2023 Apr 17.


Epidemiological studies have indicated an association between statin use and reduced incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC), and work in preclinical models has demonstrated a potential chemopreventive effect. Statins are also associated with reduced dysbiosis in the gut microbiome, yet the role of the gut microbiome in the protective effect of statins in CRC is unclear. Here we validated the chemopreventive role of statins by retrospectively analysing a cohort of patients who underwent colonoscopies. This was confirmed in preclinical models and patient cohorts, and we found that reduced tumour burden was partly due to statin modulation of the gut microbiota. Specifically, the gut commensal Lactobacillus reuteri was increased as a result of increased microbial tryptophan availability in the gut after atorvastatin treatment. Our in vivo studies further revealed that L. reuteri administration suppressed colorectal tumorigenesis via the tryptophan catabolite, indole-3-lactic acid (ILA). ILA exerted anti-tumorigenic effects by downregulating the IL-17 signalling pathway. This microbial metabolite inhibited T helper 17 cell differentiation by targeting the nuclear receptor, RAR-related orphan receptor γt (RORγt). Together, our study provides insights into an anti-cancer mechanism driven by statin use and suggests that interventions with L. reuteri or ILA could complement chemoprevention strategies for CRC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors* / pharmacology
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • Limosilactobacillus reuteri*
  • Microbiota*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tryptophan


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Tryptophan