Reproductive Senescence and Ischemic Stroke Remodel the Gut Microbiome and Modulate the Effects of Estrogen Treatment in Female Rats.
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Our previous work has shown that reproductively senescent (or middle-aged; 10-12-month-old) Sprague-Dawley female rats, that are naturally estrogen-deficient, have worse stroke outcomes as compared to normally estrous-cycling adult (5-6-month-old) females. Paradoxically, estrogen replacement to this middle-aged group exacerbates stroke outcomes, while it is neuroprotective in adult females. Recent studies reveal an important role for the gut microbiome and gut metabolites in cardiovascular health, including stroke outcomes. To determine whether gut dysbiosis underlies stroke severity in reproductive senescent females, and underlies the anomalous effects of estrogen on stroke, we compared the gut microbiota and gut metabolites pre and post stroke in (a) gonadally intact adult and middle-aged females, (b) in ovariectomized and estrogen-treated (OVX+E) adult and OVX+E middle-aged females, and (c) in middle-aged OVX+E females after fecal microbiome transfer. Our data show significant gut dysbiosis in reproductive senescent females at baseline and after stroke as indicated by an elevated ratio of the major phyla, Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes (F:B), reduced alpha diversity, and significant shifts in beta diversity as compared with adult females. Specific bacterial families were also altered as a result of reproductive aging, as well as gut metabolites, including elevated serum endotoxin levels and decreased short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), with a concomitant increase in IL-17A, indicating that reproductive senescence significantly affects gut communities under pathologic conditions. Despite the differences in gonadally intact adult and middle-aged females, estrogen-treated ovariectomized (OVX+E) females of either age group displayed no differences in the major phyla, but there was increased abundance in specific bacterial taxa, including Prevotella and Lactobacillus. The SCFA butyrate was significantly reduced at baseline in the middle-aged OVX+E females, while circulating endotoxin LPS were elevated in this group after stroke, suggesting that gut metabolites were differently affected by estrogen treatment in the two age groups. A fecal transfer from adult OVX+E females to middle-aged OVX+E females significantly reduced infarct volume, improved behavioral recovery and transiently reduced IL-17A expression. These data provide the first evidence that microbial gut communities and metabolites are altered by reproductive senescence in female rats at baseline and after stroke, and suggest that estrogen may impact stroke recovery differently in adult and reproductive senescent females due to an age-specific effect on gut microbiota and metabolites.