American Journal of Gastroenterology Lecture

Intestinal Microbiota and the Role of Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) in Treatment of C. difficile Infection

Lawrence J Brandt MD; MACG


Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(2):177-185. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The vital roles that intestinal flora, now called microbiota, have in maintaining our health are being increasingly appreciated. Starting with birth, exposure to the outside world begins the life-long intimate association our microbiota will have with our diet and environment, and initiates determination of the post-natal structural and functional maturation of the gut. Moreover, vital interactions of the microbiota with our metabolic activities, as well as with the immunological apparatus that constitutes our major defense system against foreign antigens continues throughout life. A perturbed intestinal microbiome has been associated with an increasing number of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal diseases including Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). It has become recognized that fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) can correct the dysbiosis that characterizes chronic CDI, and effect a seemingly safe, relatively inexpensive, and rapidly effective cure in the vast majority of patients so treated. In addition, FMT has been used to treat an array of other gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal disorders, although experience in these other non-CDI diseases is in its infancy. More work needs to be done with FMT to ensure its safety and optimal route of administration. There is a conceptual sea change that is developing in our view of bacteria from their role only as pathogens to that of being critical to health maintenance in a changing world. Future studies are certain to narrow the spectrum of organisms that need to be given to patients to cure disease. FMT is but the first step in this journey.


Although the concept that our intestinal microbiota has an important role in maintaining our health is relatively new, the subject of fecal transplantation has been around for millennia. Its first mention in the literature was during the 4th century, when Ge Hong described the use of human fecal suspension by mouth for food poisoning or severe diarrhea.[1] In the 16th century, Li Shizhen detailed a variety of fecal preparations called "yellow soup" to be given for diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation.[1] I will discuss the modern history of fecal transplantation later, but we can be sure that future history will reveal high-quality scientific studies into the nature, awesome complexity, and therapeutic powers of our intestinal microbiome.