Cross-talks between gut microbiota and tobacco smoking: a two-sample Mendelian randomization study

BMC Med. 2023 Apr 28;21(1):163. doi: 10.1186/s12916-023-02863-1.


Background: Considerable evidence has been reported that tobacco use could cause alterations in gut microbiota composition. The microbiota-gut-brain axis also in turn hinted at a possible contribution of the gut microbiota to smoking. However, population-level studies with a higher evidence level for causality are lacking.

Methods: This study utilized the summary-level data of respective genome-wide association study (GWAS) for 211 gut microbial taxa and five smoking phenotypes to reveal the causal association between the gut microbiota and tobacco smoking. Two-sample bidirectional Mendelian randomization (MR) design was deployed and comprehensively sensitive analyses were followed to validate the robustness of results. We further performed multivariable MR to evaluate the effect of neurotransmitter-associated metabolites on observed associations.

Results: Our univariable MR results confirmed the effects of smoking on three taxa (Intestinimonas, Catenibacterium, and Ruminococcaceae, observed from previous studies) with boosted evidence level and identified another 13 taxa which may be causally affected by tobacco smoking. As for the other direction, we revealed that smoking behaviors could be potential consequence of specific taxa abundance. Combining with existing observational evidence, we provided novel insights regarding a positive feedback loop of smoking through Actinobacteria and indicated a potential mechanism for the link between parental smoking and early smoking initiation of their children driven by Bifidobacterium. The multivariable MR results suggested that neurotransmitter-associated metabolites (tryptophan and tyrosine, also supported by previous studies) probably played a role in the action pathway from the gut microbiota to smoking, especially for Actinobacteria and Peptococcus.

Conclusions: In summary, the current study suggested the role of the specific gut microbes on the risk for cigarette smoking (likely involving alterations in metabolites) and in turn smoking on specific gut microbes. Our findings highlighted the hazards of tobacco use for gut flora dysbiosis and shed light on the potential role of specific gut microbiota for smoking behaviors.

Keywords: Gut microbiota; Mendelian randomization; Metabolite; Microbiota-gut-brain axis; Tobacco smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria*
  • Clostridiales
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoking