Metabolic diversity in commensal protists regulates intestinal immunity and trans-kingdom competition

Cell. 2024 Jan 4;187(1):62-78.e20. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.11.018. Epub 2023 Dec 13.


The microbiota influences intestinal health and physiology, yet the contributions of commensal protists to the gut environment have been largely overlooked. Here, we discover human- and rodent-associated parabasalid protists, revealing substantial diversity and prevalence in nonindustrialized human populations. Genomic and metabolomic analyses of murine parabasalids from the genus Tritrichomonas revealed species-level differences in excretion of the metabolite succinate, which results in distinct small intestinal immune responses. Metabolic differences between Tritrichomonas species also determine their ecological niche within the microbiota. By manipulating dietary fibers and developing in vitro protist culture, we show that different Tritrichomonas species prefer dietary polysaccharides or mucus glycans. These polysaccharide preferences drive trans-kingdom competition with specific commensal bacteria, which affects intestinal immunity in a diet-dependent manner. Our findings reveal unappreciated diversity in commensal parabasalids, elucidate differences in commensal protist metabolism, and suggest how dietary interventions could regulate their impact on gut health.

Keywords: Tritrichomonas; commensal protist; fiber; metabolites; microbiome; microbiota-accessible carbohydrate; mucus; parabasalid; trans-kingdom; tuft cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Parabasalidea* / metabolism
  • Polysaccharides* / metabolism


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Polysaccharides
  • Dietary Carbohydrates