Fecal short-chain fatty acids are not predictive of colonic tumor status and cannot be predicted based on bacterial community structure

Marc A. Sze, Begüm D. Topçuoğlu, Nicholas A. Lesniak, Mack T. Ruffin, Patrick D. Schloss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Colonic bacterial populations are thought to have a role in the development of colorectal cancer with some protecting against inflammation and others exacerbating inflammation. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and are produced in large quantities by colonic bacteria that produce SCFAs by fermenting fiber. We assessed whether there was an association between fecal SCFA concentrations and the presence of colonic adenomas or carcinomas in a cohort of individuals using 16S rRNA gene and metagenomic shotgun sequence data. We measured the fecal concentrations of acetate, propionate, and butyrate within the cohort and found that there were no significant associations between SCFA concentration and tumor status. When we incorporated these concentrations into random forest classification models trained to differentiate between people with healthy colons and those with adenomas or carcinomas, we found that they did not significantly improve the ability of 16S rRNA gene or metagenomic gene sequence-based models to classify individuals. Finally, we generated random forest regression models trained to predict the concentration of each SCFA based on 16S rRNA gene or metagenomic gene sequence data from the same samples. These models performed poorly and were able to explain at most 14% of the observed variation in the SCFA concentrations. These results support the broader epidemio-logical data that questions the value of fiber consumption for reducing the risks of colorectal cancer. Although other bacterial metabolites may serve as biomarkers to detect adenomas or carcinomas, fecal SCFA concentrations have limited predictive power. IMPORTANCE Considering that colorectal cancer is the third leading cancer-related cause of death within the United States, it is important to detect colorectal tumors early and to prevent the formation of tumors. Short-chain fatty acids (SC-FAs) are often used as a surrogate for measuring gut health and for being anti-carcinogenic because of their anti-inflammatory properties. We evaluated the fecal SCFA concentrations of a cohort of individuals with different colonic tumor burdens who were previously analyzed to identify microbiome-based biomarkers of tumors. We were unable to find an association between SCFA concentration and tumor burden or use SCFAs to improve our microbiome-based models of classifying people based on their tumor status. Furthermore, we were unable to find an association between the fecal community structure and SCFA concentrations. Our results indicate that the association between fecal SCFAs, the gut microbiome, and tumor burden is weak.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01454-19
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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