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Member Research and Reports

UNC: Gut Microbiota Can Lessen the Toxic Effects of Arsenic Exposure, Helping Prevent Heart Disease

New research from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health suggests that manipulating gut microbiota – microorganisms that live in the digestive tract – can mitigate the effects of arsenic exposure, a known cause of heart disease. Researchers say the findings can be used to guide the development of new medical treatments to help prevent arsenic-related cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Kun Lu, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering, and his team shared their findings in a paper titled, “Lipid and Cholesterol Homeostasis after Arsenic Exposure and Antibiotic Treatment in Mice: Potential Role of the Microbiota” published online by Environmental Health Perspectives.

Previous research has shown that arsenic exposure has a harmful effect on lipid and cholesterol levels in the body, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular disease. Specifically, arsenic exposure inhibits the signaling of liver X receptors/retinoid X receptors (LXR/RXR), which modulate the expression of genes involved in lipid metabolism and thus affect the equilibrium of lipids and cholesterol.

According to Dr. Lu, human exposure to arsenic is widespread, occurring primarily through drinking water and diet.

In their study, Dr. Lu and his team explored whether the gut microbiome could be leveraged to reduce the toxic effects of arsenic on lipid metabolism. Their analysis found that arsenic exposure differentially influenced hepatic signaling pathways and caused affected the serum cholesterol levels of mice.

“Our hope is that these findings will lead to a better understanding of individual susceptibility in arsenic-induced disease,” says Dr. Lu. “We need to develop microbiome-based intervention strategies to reduce related disease burdens.”

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