, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 180-188

Formation of Phenolic and Indolic Compounds by Anaerobic Bacteria in the Human Large Intestine

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Batch culture incubations were used to investigate the effects of pH (6.8 or 5.5) and carbohydrate (starch) availability on dissimilatory aromatic amino acid metabolism in human fecal bacteria. During growth on peptide mixtures, tyrosine and phenylalanine fermentations occurred optimally at pH 6.8, while individual metabolic reactions were inhibited by up to 80% in the presence of 10 g l−1 starch. Tryptophan metabolites were not detected in these experiments. When free amino acids replaced peptides, phenol production was increased during carbohydrate fermentation, although formation of p-cresol, another tyrosine metabolite was strongly inhibited. Phenylpropionate, which is produced from phenylalanine, was unaffected by starch. Tryptophan was fermented in these studies, although indole production was reduced in the starch fermentors. The importance of different fermentation substrates (casein, peptide mixtures, free amino acids) on aromatic amino acid metabolism was investigated in incubations of material taken from the proximal bowel. The phenylalanine metabolites, phenylacetate and phenylpropionate, were the principal phenolic compounds formed from all three substrates. Phenol was the major tyrosine metabolite produced in casein and peptide fermentations, while hydroxyphenylpropionate was a more important tyrosine product from free amino acids. Indole was the sole product of tryptophan metabolism, but was formed only from the free amino acid. Bacterial metabolism of individual phenolic and indolic compounds was also investigated. Phenol, p-cresol, phenylacetate, phenylpropionate, 4-ethylphenol, indole, indoleacetate, and indolepropionate were not metabolized by colonic bacteria. However, hydroxyphenylacetate was hydrolyzed to p-cresol, while hydroxyphenylpropionate was transformed into phenylpropionate. Indolepyruvate was either converted to indoleacetate or metabolized into indole. Indolepropionate, and to a lesser degree indoleacetate were produced from indolelactate. These data show that human colonic anaerobes are able to extensively degrade either free or peptide-bound aromatic amino acids, with the concomitant formation of toxic metabolic products. These processes are controlled to a significant degree by environmental factors such as pH and carbohydrate availability, and this ultimately influences the types and amounts of fermentation products that can be formed in different regions of the large bowel.

Received: 25 January 1996; Accepted: 8 May 1996