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A metabolic pathway for bile acid dehydroxylation by the gut microbiome

By Masanori Funabashi, Tyler L. Grove, Victoria Pascal, Yug Varma, Molly E. McFadden, Laura C. Brown, Chunjun Guo, Marnix H Medema, Steven C. Almo, Michael A Fischbach

Posted 05 Sep 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/758557 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2396-4)

The gut microbiota synthesize hundreds of molecules, many of which are known to impact host physiology. Among the most abundant metabolites are the secondary bile acids deoxycholic acid (DCA) and lithocholic acid (LCA), which accumulate at ~500 micromolar and are known to block C. difficile growth, promote hepatocellular carcinoma, and modulate host metabolism via the GPCR TGR5. More broadly, DCA, LCA and their derivatives are a major component of the recirculating bile acid pool; the size and composition of this pool are a target of therapies for primary biliary cholangitis and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Despite the clear impact of DCA and LCA on host physiology, incomplete knowledge of their biosynthetic genes and a lack of genetic tools in their native producer limit our ability to modulate secondary bile acid levels in the host. Here, we complete the pathway to DCA/LCA by assigning and characterizing enzymes for each of the steps in its reductive arm, revealing a strategy in which the A-B rings of the steroid core are transiently converted into an electron acceptor for two reductive steps carried out by Fe-S flavoenzymes. Using anaerobic in vitro reconstitution, we establish that a set of six enzymes is necessary and sufficient for the 8-step conversion of cholic acid to DCA. We then engineer the pathway into Clostridium sporogenes, conferring production of DCA and LCA on a non-producing commensal and demonstrating that a microbiome-derived pathway can be expressed and controlled heterologously. These data establish a complete pathway to two central components of the bile acid pool, and provide a road map for deorphaning and engineering pathways from the microbiome as a critical step toward controlling the metabolic output of the gut microbiota.

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