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Methanogenic archaea in the human gastrointestinal tract

Abstract

The human microbiome is strongly interwoven with human health and disease. Besides bacteria, viruses and eukaryotes, numerous archaea are located in the human gastrointestinal tract and are responsible for methane production, which can be measured in clinical methane breath analyses. Methane is an important readout for various diseases, including intestinal methanogen overgrowth. Notably, the archaea responsible for methane production are largely overlooked in human microbiome studies due to their non-bacterial biology and resulting detection issues. As such, their importance for health and disease remains largely unclear to date, in particular as not a single archaeal representative has been deemed to be pathogenic. In this Perspective, we discuss the current knowledge on the clinical relevance of methanogenic archaea. We explain the archaeal unique response to antibiotics and their negative and positive effects on human physiology, and present the current understanding of the use of methane as a diagnostic marker.

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Fig. 1: Host–archaea–microbiota interaction in the gut.
Fig. 2: Overview of the association of methanogenic archaea and methane detection in breath with human diseases.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank R. Mohammadzadeh (Diagnostic and Research Department of Microbiology, Hygiene and Environmental Medicine, Medical University of Graz) for the correction of and discussion on the manuscript. They gratefully acknowledge research funding by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (P 32697) given to C.M.-E.

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Hoegenauer, C., Hammer, H.F., Mahnert, A. et al. Methanogenic archaea in the human gastrointestinal tract. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 19, 805–813 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-022-00673-z

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