Nature Reviews Endocrinology 7, 639-646 (November 2011) | doi:10.1038/nrendo.2011.126

Subject Category: Obesity

Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics

Nathalie M. Delzenne, Audrey M. Neyrinck, Fredrik Bäckhed & Patrice D. Cani  About the authors


At birth, the human colon is rapidly colonized by gut microbes. Owing to their vast number and their capacity to ferment nutrients and secrete bioactive compounds, these gastrointestinal microbes act as an environmental factor that affects the host's physiology and metabolism, particularly in the context of obesity and its related metabolic disorders. Experiments that compared germ-free and colonized mice or analyzed the influence of nutrients that qualitatively change the composition of the gut microbiota (namely prebiotics) showed that gut microbes induce a wide variety of host responses within the intestinal mucosa and thereby control the gut's barrier and endocrine functions. Gut microbes also influence the metabolism of cells in tissues outside of the intestines (in the liver and adipose tissue) and thereby modulate lipid and glucose homeostasis, as well as systemic inflammation, in the host. A number of studies describe characteristic differences between the composition and/or activity of the gut microbiota of lean individuals and those with obesity. Although these data are controversial, they suggest that specific phyla, classes or species of bacteria, or bacterial metabolic activities could be beneficial or detrimental to patients with obesity. The gut microbiota is, therefore, a potential nutritional and pharmacological target in the management of obesity and obesity-related disorders.

Author affiliations

N. M. Delzenne, A. M. Neyrinck, F. Bäckhed & P. D. Cani
Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain Drug Research Institute, Metabolism and Nutrition Research Group, 73 Avenue Emmanuel Mounier, Box B1.73.11, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium (N. M. Delzenne, A. M. Neyrinck, P. D. Cani).  Sahlgrenska Centre for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research, Wallenberg Laboratory Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, University of Gothenburg, Bruna Stråket 16, SE-41345 Gothenburg, Sweden (F. Bäckhed).

Correspondence to: N. M. Delzenne

Published online 9 August 2011