Can Fecal Transplants Help Reverse Aging? 

Megan Brooks

May 12, 2022

Transplanting fecal microbiota from young mice into older mice can reverse signs of aging in the gut, brain, and eyes, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom has found. Conversely, transplanting microbiota from old mice to young mice has the opposite effect.

This research provides "tantalizing evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in aging and the functional decline of brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy," Simon Carding, PhD, who heads the gut microbes and health research program at the Quadram Institute in Norwich, says in a news release.

The study was published online in the journal Microbiome.

The Fountain of Youth?

Age-related changes in diversity, composition, and function of the gut microbiota are associated with low-grade systemic inflammation, declining tissue function, and increased susceptibility to age-related chronic diseases.

Carding and colleagues at the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia used fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) to exchange the intestinal microbiota of young mice and aged mice.

Young mice who received aged microbiota showed increased intestinal barrier permeability (leaky gut) coupled with upregulated inflammation in the brain and retina, as well as loss of a key functional protein in the eye, they report.

Conversely, these detrimental effects were reversed when microbiota from young mice was transferred to aged mice. FMT with young microbiota also led to enrichment of beneficial taxa in aged mice.

"Our data support the suggestion that altered gut microbiota in old age contributes to intestinal and systemic inflammation, and so may contribute to driving inflammatory pathologies of aged organs," the study team writes.

"Targeting the gut-brain axis in aging, by modification of microbial composition to modulate immune and metabolic pathways, may therefore be a potential avenue for therapeutic approaches to age-associated inflammatory and functional decline," they suggest.

In ongoing studies, the study team are working to understand how long the beneficial effects of young donor microbiota last, which will establish whether FMT can promote long-term health benefits in aged individuals and ameliorate age-associated neurodegeneration and retinal functional deterioration.

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

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

Support for this research was provided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The authors report no relevant financial relationships .

Microbiome. Published online April 29, 2022. Full text

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