New biological fountain of youth: Assume the fecal position

Can fecal transplantation reverse aging? Recent research suggests so.

British scientists have found that transplanting faecal bacteria from young mice into older mice reverses the signs of aging in the gut, brain and eyes. Moreover, transplanting microbiota from old mice to young mice produces the opposite effects.

The research provides “compelling evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in aging and functional decline in brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy,” Simon Carding, PhD, who directs the gut microbes and health research program at the Quadram Institute in Norwich, says in a press release.

Age-related changes in gut bacteria are associated with widespread, low-grade inflammation, declining tissue function, and increased susceptibility to age-related chronic diseases. Bacteria in the small intestine are particularly important to human health because most nutrients and drugs are absorbed there.

Carding and his colleagues used fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) to swap gut bacteria from young mice with bacteria from older mice. Young mice that received microbiota from older mice showed increased intestinal permeability (leakage), inflammation of the brain and retina, and loss of a key functional protein in the eye, they report. The effects were reversed when bacteria from young mice were transplanted into older mice. FMT with a young microbiota also led to the enrichment of beneficial bacteria in older mice.

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Research teams fit mice with tiny layers, called tail cups, to prevent bacterial “self-reinoculation.”

“Our data support the suggestion that altered gut microbiota in older adults contributes to intestinal and systemic inflammation, and therefore may contribute to driving inflammatory pathologies of aged organs,” the study team wrote.

The habit of mice and other rodents to eat their own excrement – called coprophagy – has major implications for health research. By consuming their own poo, mice have much higher microbial loads that produce different bile acid profiles in the small intestine compared to mice restricted from consuming feces. Biliary profiles play a role in the absorption of dietary fat.

Ongoing studies are focused on understanding the sustainability of the beneficial effects of the microbiota of young donors. This research will establish whether FMT can promote long-term health benefits in older adults by slowing age-related deterioration of the brain and eyes.

“Our results provide more evidence for important links between microbes in the gut and healthy aging of tissues and organs around the body,” lead author Aimée Parker, PhD, said in the release.

“We hope our findings will ultimately contribute to understanding how we can manipulate our diet and gut bacteria to maximize good health later in life,” she added.

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