p-Cresol sulfate (pCS) and indoxyl sulfate (IS), gut microbiome-derived metabolites, are traditionally associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks in the setting of impaired kidney function. While pharmacologic provision of pCS or IS can promote pro-thrombotic phenotypes, neither the microbial enzymes involved nor direct gut microbial production have been linked to CVD. Untargeted metabolomics was performed on a discovery cohort (n = 1,149) with relatively preserved kidney function, followed by stable isotope-dilution mass spectrometry quantification of pCS and IS in an independent validation cohort (n = 3,954). Genetic engineering of human commensals to produce p-cresol and indole gain-of-function and loss-of-function mutants, followed by colonization of germ-free mice, and studies on host thrombosis were performed. Systemic pCS and IS levels were independently associated with all-cause mortality. Both in vitro and within colonized germ-free mice p-cresol productions were recapitulated by collaboration of two organisms: a Bacteroides strain that converts tyrosine to 4-hydroxyphenylacetate, and a Clostridium strain that decarboxylates 4-hydroxyphenylacetate to p-cresol. We then engineered a single organism, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, to produce p-cresol, indole, or both metabolites. Colonizing germ-free mice with engineered strains, we show the gut microbial genes for p-cresol (hpdBCA) and indole (tryptophanase) are sufficient to confer a pro-thrombotic phenotype in vivo. Moreover, human fecal metagenomics analyses show that abundances of hpdBCA and tryptophanase are associated with CVD. These studies show that pCS and IS, two abundant microbiome-derived metabolites, play a broader potential role in CVD than was previously known. They also suggest that therapeutic targeting of gut microbial p-cresol- and indole-producing pathways represent rational targets for CVD.IMPORTANCEAlterations in gut microbial composition and function have been linked to numerous diseases. Identifying microbial pathways responsible for producing molecules that adversely impact the host is an important first step in the development of therapeutic interventions. Here, we first use large-scale clinical observations to link blood levels of defined microbial products to cardiovascular disease risks. Notably, the previously identified uremic toxins p-cresol sulfate and indoxyl sulfate were shown to predict 5-year mortality risks. After identifying the microbes and microbial enzymes involved in the generation of these uremic toxins, we used bioengineering technologies coupled with colonization of germ-free mice to show that the gut microbial genes that generate p-cresol and indole are sufficient to confer p-cresol sulfate and indoxyl sulfate formation, and a pro-thrombotic phenotype in vivo. The findings and tools developed serve as a critical step in both the study and targeting of these gut microbial pathways in vivo.
Keywords: cardiovascular disease; gut microbes; indoxyl sulfate; mortality; p-cresol sulfate; uremic toxins.