Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Transplanted Gut Bugs Protect Mice from Diabetes

Intestinal microbes from male mice changed the hormones and disease rates of female mice.

Researchers are increasingly realizing the deciding roles that microbes play in our health.

By exposing female mice to the gut bacteria of a healthy adult male, researchers were able to prevent the females from developing type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder. The study, published in Science on Thursday, also shows that the treatment changed the levels of testosterone in female mice, which typically develop type 1 diabetes at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

The females of the strain of mice used in the study have a 90 percent chance of developing diabetes, says senior author Jayne Danska, an immunologist and geneticist at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. But by transferring the normal bacteria from the intestines of adult male mice to young female mice, the researchers were able to reduce the rate of disease to 25 percent. The changes in testosterone levels in the female mice did not reach typical male levels, but the authors show that only with active testosterone signaling did the female mice gain protection against diabetes, demonstrating that the microbe-induced increase in testosterone was critical to changing their disease rate.   

Researchers are increasingly cataloging the microbes in our body (see “Researchers Catalogue Your Microbial Zoo”) and figuring out how disease can arise when these communities are off-kilter. A microbiome connection to heart disease, obesity, and other conditions has been suggested by different groups, and some doctors have even begun to treat patients with gut bacteria transfers (see “Transplanting Gut Microbes to Treat Disease”). Today’s study suggests that changes in the gut microbial community have the potential to treat autoimmune diseases, as well.

The study by Danska and colleagues suggests a “symbiotic feedback loop” in which the sex of the animal affects the gut bug community and the gut bug community reinforces sex hormone levels. “So often, bacteria are viewed as the enemy,” says Danska. “But in some cases, microbes help protect us from pathogens and help us develop healthy [hormone] systems and healthy metabolisms.”

Male mice of the same genetic background have a 40 percent chance of developing diabetes. In humans, type 1 diabetes does not have such a large gender gap, but many other autoimmune diseases do. For example, women are much more likely to develop multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmunity against the thyroid, says Danska.

Get stories like this before anyone else with First Look.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.