An exciting presentation at the International Liver Congress (TM) 2012 has revealed that gut microbiota play a contributing role in the development of diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) independent of obesity.

The French researchers underline that gut microbiota transplantation, i.e. grafting new microbiota from a healthy donor's faecal material and transplanting it into the colon of a diseased recipient, can potentially prevent diabetes and NAFLD.

In a 16-week animal study, the researchers transplanted gut microbiota into two groups of germ free mice. One set of microbiota was grafted from donor mice with symptoms of insulin resistance and liver steatosis (responders), whilst the other transplants were obtained from normal mice (non responders). The donor mice were selected based on their response to being fed a high fat diet.

The findings revealed that the germ free group that received microbiota from symptomatic mice, i.e. with responder receivers - RR, had a higher concentration of fat levels in their liver and were insulin resistant, whilst the germ free group that received microbiota from healthy mice, i.e. with non-responder-receivers - NRR, maintained normal levels of glucose, as well as insulin sensitivity.

Dr Frank Lammert, an EASL Scientific Committee Member, explained:

"The factors leading to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) are poorly understood, but it is known that NAFLD and Type 2 diabetes are characterized, respectively, by liver inflammation and metabolic disorders like insulin resistance. This study shows that different microbiota cause different metabolic responses in animals. By implanting microbiota from healthy mice, the study authors prevented the development of liver inflammation and insulin resistance, both indications of liver disease and diabetes. Thus, gut microbiota transplants could have a therapeutic role in the development of these diseases."
The researchers observed that RR mice also had lower levels of microorganisms, compared with those usually found in the healthy gut. The most significant species in developing fatty liver and insulin resistance was Lachnospiracaeae.

The intestinal microbiota is currently viewed as a 'microbial organ' in its own entity, which plays vital roles in terms of metabolism and immune function. Transplanting microbiota could therefore potentially restore gut functionality and re-establish a certain state of intestinal flora.

Written By Petra Rattue