The Microbiome of Complicated Diverticulitis: An Imbalance of Sulfur-Metabolizing Bacteria

Austin C. Portolese, Brittney N. McMullen, Samantha K. Baker, Jeremy R. Chen See, Gregory S. Yochum, Walter A. Koltun, Regina Lamendella, Nimalan A. Jeganathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The progression to acute diverticulitis from the relatively benign condition of colonic diverticulosis is not well characterized. A smaller subset may even develop complicated (perforated) diverticulitis resulting in sepsis and/or death. Characterizing the differences between recurrent, uncomplicated diverticulitis, and the more virulent, complicated diverticulitis is necessary to guide clinical decision-making. Alterations to the microbiome offer a possible explanation for local inflammation and the pathophysiology of diverticular disease. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to characterize the mucosal-associated microbiome in patients with recurrent uncomplicated diverticulitis and complicated (perforated) diverticulitis. DESIGN: Microbial DNA was extracted from full-thickness surgical specimens for 16S rRNA gene sequencing, targeting the V4 hypervariable region. Sequences were analyzed and a quantitative characterization based on taxonomic classification was performed. SETTING: A tertiary care academic medical center. PATIENTS: This study compared 48 patients with recurrent, uncomplicated diverticulitis and 35 patients with radiographically confirmed perforated (complicated) diverticulitis. Tissues were harvested from surgical resection specimens to include both diseased regions and nondiseased (adjacent normal) regions. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: We assessed differences in relative abundance and taxonomic classification of mucosal-associated microbes in surgical resection specimens from diverticular disease. RESULTS: When analyzing the tissue of diverticular resection specimens, the complicated diseased segments demonstrated an increased abundance of sulfur-reducing and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria compared to nondiseased, adjacent normal regions. When comparing diseased segments, tissues of patients with complicated diverticulitis had a marked increase in sulfur-reducing microbes. LIMITATIONS: We characterized the mucosal-associated microbiome present at the time of surgical resection, limiting conclusions on its role in pathophysiology. Furthermore, antibiotic usage and bowel preparation before surgery may result in perturbations to microbial flora. CONCLUSIONS: The microbiome of complicated diverticulitis is marked by a localized imbalance of sulfur-metabolizing microbes. The abundance of sulfur-reducing microbes may lead to an excess of hydrogen sulfide and subsequent inflammation. See Video Abstract at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-715
Number of pages9
JournalDiseases of the colon and rectum
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gastroenterology


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