Methanogen Levels Are Significantly Associated with Fecal Microbiota Composition and Alpha Diversity in Healthy Adults and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients

Wang, Taojun; Dijk, Leander van; Rijnaarts, Iris; Hermes, Gerben D.A.; Roos, Nicole M. de; Witteman, Ben J.M.; Wit, Nicole J.W. de; Govers, Coen; Smidt, Hauke; Zoetendal, Erwin G.


Hydrogenotrophic microbes, primarily including the three functional groups methanogens, sulfate-reducing bacteria, and reductive acetogens, use hydrogen as an energy source and play an important role in maintaining the hydrogen balance in gut ecosystems. A distorted hydrogen balance has been associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, the role of hydrogenotrophic microbes in overall microbiota composition and function remains largely unknown. This study aims to assess the distribution and stability of hydrogenotrophic functional groups in healthy adults (HAs) and IBS patients and their association with overall microbiota composition and IBS symptoms. A two-time-point study with 4 weeks in between was performed with 27 HAs and 55 IBS patients included. Our observations revealed that methanogens showed a bimodal distribution across samples. A high-level methanogen microbiota was consistently associated with higher alpha diversity, and its composition was significantly different from that of individuals with a low-level methanogen microbiota. In general, these associations were more pronounced in IBS patients than in HAs. The differences in the copy numbers of genes indicative of total bacteria and acetogens between HAs and IBS patients and their correlations with IBS symptom severity, anxiety, depression, and quality of life (QoL) were sampling time dependent. Hydrogenotrophic functional groups did not show negative abundance correlations with each other in HAs and IBS patients. These findings suggest that methanogen levels in the gut have a pronounced association with microbiota alpha diversity and composition, and the interactions between hydrogenotrophic functional groups are complex in gut ecosystems.