You know I don’t usually write about animal studies. I’m going to break that rule today to review an abstract that addresses what I think is an under-appreciated contributor to outcomes in trauma. The gut microbiome describes the collection of all genomes from microorganisms found in a particular environment. These genomes include bacteria, viruses, and fungi and can be found on all external surfaces of humans.
And I use the term “external” loosely. It includes the areas of the human body that are obviously exposed to the environment, but also areas where our body is wrapped around yet still separate from the it, such as the aerodigestive tract and vagina.
We are beginning to recognize the importance of the micro-organisms that inhabit these areas. They aid in digestion, fine tune the immune system, and synthesize proteins, amino acids, and vitamins that are essential to our health to name a few key tasks.
Many things can disrupt the microbiome including disease, diet, stress, and antibiotics. Previous work has shown that the microbiome changes throughout the hospital stay after trauma. Beneficial species tend to die out, and the ratio of pathologic vs beneficial species tilts toward the dark side.
The group from the University of Florida studied the effects of trauma and chronic stress in a group of rats to study the impact on the gut microbiome. One group of rats was subjected to a polytrauma model including pulmonary contusion, shock, cecectomy, and femur fractures. Another received the polytrauma treatment plus two hours of restraint stress daily. These groups were compared to an untreated control group. Gut flora were measured at baseline and on days 3 and 7.
Here are the factoids:
- As expected, the microbiomes were similar across all groups at baseline
- Polytrauma caused a significant change in bacterial diversity at both days 3 and 7 with both Bacteroides and Enterococcus prevalent
- Polytrauma plus stress also depleted “good bacteria” and was associated with a switch to predominantly Enterococcus colonization
The authors suggested that the observed transitions to a pathologic microbiome may influence outcomes after severe trauma and critical illness.
Bottom line: I wanted to highlight this simple study because it relates to a similar topic that is exploding in the clinical nutrition field. The gut microbiome is being recognized as a key element of our overall health. However, it is very sensitive to external events and can be “knocked out of whack” by stress, trauma, bad diet, and even a single dose of antibiotics. Its derangement is recognized as a major factor in the development of C Difficile colitis.
This simple little rat study confirms that major trauma and stress negatively impact the animals’ microbiome. It did not examine outcomes, so no associations can be made here. Any such associations would not be directly applicable to humans, anyway. But it should serve to stimulate some thought and additional human studies to continue investigation in this field.
I have been struck by how we mistreat the gut microbiome in hospitalized patients through my own clinical observations over the years. A short course of antibiotics has been shown to severely impact the diversity of gut flora within days, and may require a year or more to recover back to baseline.
Extended fasting exhausts the food supply for the bacteria which may lead to the use of the gut lining for food, creating additional pathology. The composition of the nutritional supplements used in hospital are formulated from cheap ingredients which have been shown to disrupt the microbiome. Then add on trauma and chronic stress. It’s a terrible combination, yet we see it every day in hospitalized patients!
I predict that we will learn to pay more attention to all our various microbiomes in the future. A more thorough understanding may allow us to reduce complications (think C Diff) and might help us recognize some subtle factors that are contributing to overall mortality.
Here are my comments and questions for the authors / presenters:
- The audience will not be familiar with the microbiome diversity measures described in the abstract. Please take a little time to explain it, what is normal, and what happens when it changes.
- Were there any obvious outcome correlations observed that were not reported?
- Where do you go from here? Any plans for human studies on this topic?
As you can see, I find this area fascinating and believe that it is an underappreciated source of outcome variability in the patients we take care of. Figuring this out will help us tweak and optimize our overall patient care.
Reference: MULTICOMPARTMENTAL TRAUMATIC INJURY AND THE MICROBIOME: SHIFT TO A PATHOBIOME. Plenary paper #54, AAST 2022.