Bacteria in the gut “talk” to the horse’s cells to improve their athletic performance

PICTURE: A typical endurance horse (Arabian breed) was presented for a gait test before the start of the race to check locomotor correctness. During endurance competitions (100-160 km), horses must pass … a view more

Credit: Eric Barrey

A horse’s gut microbiome communicates with its host by sending chemical signals to its cells, which results in helping the horse expand its energy, a new study published in Boundaries in molecular biosciences. This exciting discovery paves the way for dietary supplements that could improve a horse’s athletic performance.

“We were one of the first to show that certain types of horse gut bacteria produce chemical signals that interact with mitochondria in horse cells that regulate and generate energy,” says Eric Barrey, author of this study and Integrative Horse Biology and Genetics team leader at the National Research Institute of Agriculture, Food and Environment, France. “We believe that metabolites – small molecules created by the breakdown of larger molecules for food or growth – produced by these bacteria affect the delay of low blood sugar and inflammation in cells, which in turn prolongs a horse’s athletic performance.”

Links to disease

Mitochondria, which can be briefly described as energy suppliers to cells, have been shown in recent studies to be interdependent with intestinal bacteria. In fact, many diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunction in humans, such as Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease, have been associated with changes in the gut microbiome in many previous studies.

“Studying horses is a good way to assess the link between intestinal bacteria and mitochondria, because the level of exercise, and thus the mitochondrial function, that a horse performs during an endurance race is similar to that of marathon runners,” explains Dr. Nuria Mach, the first author of this paper, is also based at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, France.

She continues, “For this study, we obtained permission from veterinarians to take blood samples from 20 healthy horses of similar age and performance level, at the beginning and end of the International Endurance Competition in Fontainebleau, an eight-hour horse race in France. These samples provided information on chemical signals and expression of certain genes, which is the process by which DNA is converted into instructions for making proteins or other molecules. To understand the composition of the metabolites of horse gut bacteria, we initially obtained race fecal samples. “

The researchers found that certain bacteria in the gut are linked to gene expression by mitochondria in cells. Furthermore, genes that have been expressed or “involved” have been linked to activities in the cell that have helped it adapt to energy metabolism.

An evolutionary explanation

“Interestingly, mitochondria have a bacterial origin – they are thought to have created a symbiotic relationship with other components to form the first cell. This may explain why mitochondria have this line of communication with intestinal bacteria,” says Barrey.

Mach concludes, “Improving our understanding of the communication between horses and the intestinal microbiome could help improve their individual performance, as well as the method by which they are trained and dietary composition intake. Manipulating the intestinal microbiota with probiotic supplements as well as prebiotics, feeding good bacteria, could be a way to increase the health and balance of the microbiome and the horse, to better maintain endurance exercise. ”

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