Environmental Chemical Diethylhexyl Phthalate Alters Intestinal Microbiota Community Structure and Metabolite Profile in Mice Academic Article uri icon


  • Exposure to environmental chemicals during windows of development is a potentially contributing factor in gut microbiota dysbiosis and linked to chronic diseases and developmental disorders. We used a community-level model of microbiota metabolism to investigate the effects of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a ubiquitous plasticizer implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders, on the composition and metabolite outputs of gut microbiota in young mice. Administration of DEHP by oral gavage increased the abundance of Lachnoclostridium, while decreasing Clostridium sensu stricto Addition of DEHP to in vitro-cultured cecal microbiota increased the abundance of Paenibacillus and Lachnoclostridium Untargeted metabolomics showed that DEHP broadly altered the metabolite profile in the culture. Notably, DEHP enhanced the production of p-cresol while inhibiting butyrate synthesis. Metabolic model-guided correlation analysis indicated that the likely sources of p-cresol are Clostridium species. Monoculture of Lachnoclostridium bolteae confirmed that it is capable of producing p-hydroxyphenylacetic acid, the immediate precursor of p-cresol, and that the species' growth is enhanced upon DEHP exposure. Taken together, these findings suggest a model where DEHP increases production of p-cresol, a bacterial metabolite linked with neurodevelopmental disorders, by expanding the abundance of species that synthesize the metabolite's precursor.IMPORTANCE Several previous studies have pointed to environmental chemical exposure during windows of development as a contributing factor in neurodevelopmental disorders and correlated these disorders with microbiota dysbiosis; however, little is known about how the chemicals specifically alter the microbiota to interfere with development. The findings reported in this paper unambiguously establish that a pollutant linked with neurodevelopmental disorders can directly modify the microbiota to promote the production of a potentially toxic metabolite (p-cresol) that has also been correlated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Furthermore, we used a novel modeling strategy to identify the responsible enzymes and bacterial sources of this metabolite. To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to characterize the functional consequence of phthalate exposure on a developed microbiota. Our results suggest that specific bacterial pathways could be developed as diagnostic and therapeutic targets against health risks posed by ingestion of environmental chemicals.

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Lei, M., Menon, R., Manteiga, S., Alden, N., Hunt, C., Alaniz, R. C., Lee, K., & Jayaraman, A.

citation count

  • 6

publication date

  • December 2019