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Age and sex-dependent patterns of gut microbial diversity in human adults

By Jacobo de la Cuesta-Zuluaga, Scott T. Kelley, Yingfeng Chen, Juan S Escobar, Noel T Mueller, Ruth E. Ley, Daniel McDonald, Shi Huang, Austin D Swafford, Rob Knight, Varykina Thackray

Posted 08 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/544270 (published DOI: 10.1128/mSystems.00261-19)

Gut microbial diversity changes throughout the human lifespan and is known to be affected by host sex. We investigated the association of age, sex and gut bacterial alpha diversity in three large cohorts of adults from four geographical regions: US and UK cohorts in the American Gut Project, and two independent cohorts of Colombians and Chinese. In three of the four cohorts, we observed a strong positive association between age and alpha diversity in young adults that plateaued after age 40. We also found pronounced sex-dependent differences in younger but not middle-aged adults, and women had higher alpha diversity than men. In contrast, no association of alpha diversity with age or sex was observed in the Chinese cohort. These associations were maintained after adjusting for cardiometabolic parameters in the Colombian cohort and antibiotic usage in the AGP cohort, suggesting that these factors do not affect the association of alpha diversity with age and sex. We also used a machine learning approach to predict individual age based on the gut microbiome. Consistent with our alpha diversity-based findings, women had significantly higher predicted age than men in the US and UK cohort, with a reduced difference above age 40. This was not observed in the Colombian cohort and only in the group of middle-age adults in the Chinese cohort. Together, our results provide new insights into the influence of age and sex on biodiversity of the human gut microbiota during adulthood while highlighting similarities and differences across diverse cohorts.

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