A study pioneered by experts at the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia has discovered that a faecal transplant may be able to reverse the ageing process.
A faecal transplant – that’s right, a poo transplant – seems like a drastically radical way to search for eternal youth and is a far cry from the anti-ageing creams, diets, supplements, and exercise routines that people implement to slow down the hands of time. However, new UK research suggests that transplanting faecal microbiota from young to old mice can reverse the ageing in the eyes, gut, and brain.
Furthermore, when the team reversed the faecal transplant, transferring microbiota from old mice to young mice, the microbes caused inflammation in the brains of the young mice and destroyed a vital protein essential for vision. The research highlights how gut microbes are instrumental in regulating some aspects of the ageing process, opening the door to implementing gut microbe-based therapies to combat the decline in the future.
Professor Simon Carding, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and head of the Gut Microbes and Health Research Programme at the Quadram Institute, said: “This ground-breaking study provides tantalising evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in ageing and the functional decline of brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy.”
The study, titled ‘Faecal microbiota transfer between young and aged mice reverses hallmarks of the ageing gut, eye, and brain’ was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and was published in the journal Microbiome.
Role of the gut microbiota
Previous research has solidified that the gut microbiota – the population of microbes located in our gut – is associated with health, with the majority of diseases linked to changes in the types and behaviour of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes located in the gut.
A range of these changes in microbiota composition occurs as we get older, affecting metabolism and immunity and is associated with age-related disorders, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and cardiovascular, autoimmune, metabolic, and neurodegenerative disorders.
To investigate how changes in microbiota influence ageing, the scientists performed a faecal transplant from young to old mice and vice versa, examining how this impacted inflammatory hallmarks of ageing in the brain, gut, and eye, which usually decline in old age.
Faecal transplant outcomes
The results showed that the faecal transplant from old donors caused a loss of integrity to the gut lining, which enabled bacterial products to cross into the circulation, which triggered the immune system and inflammation in the eyes and brains. Additionally, age-specific chronic inflammation is linked with the activation of specific brain immune cells. These cells were over-activated in the young mice who received the faecal transplant from the older mice.
The team also identified elevated levels of specific proteins in the eyes of the young mice that are attributed to retinal degeneration. However, when old mice received the transplanted gut microbiota from the young mice, these detrimental changes in the eyes, gut, and brain were reversed.
The researchers are now performing studies to understand how to make these effects long-lasting, identifying beneficial aspects of the young donor microbiota and how they impact organs distant from the gut.
The microbiota of young mice and the old mice who received the faecal transplant were enriched with beneficial bacteria that have been linked to good health in mice and humans. The team has also identified the products that these bacteria produce by breaking down elements of our diet, finding considerable shifts in lipids and vitamin metabolism that may be linked to the changes observed in inflammatory cells in the eye and brain.
Humans have similar pathways, and our gut microbiota changes significantly later in life, although the team stated similar studies will need to be performed in elderly humans to solidify their findings. The Quadram Institute is currently building a facility for Microbiota Replacement Therapy (MRT), also known as Faecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) to facilitate these trials, in addition trials for other microbiota-related conditions.
Dr Aimee Parker, the lead author of the study from the Quadram Institute, concluded: “We were excited to find that by changing the gut microbiota of elderly individuals, we could rescue indicators of age-associated decline commonly seen in degenerative conditions of the eye and brain.
“Our results provide more evidence of the important links between microbes in the gut and healthy ageing of tissues and organs around the body. We hope that our findings will contribute ultimately to understanding how we can manipulate our diet and our gut bacteria to maximise good health in later life.”