Oxalobacter formigenes and its role in oxalate metabolism in the human gut

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Abstract

Oxalate is ingested in a wide range of animal feeds and human foods and beverages and is formed endogenously as a waste product of metabolism. Bacterial, rather than host, enzymes are required for the intestinal degradation of oxalate in man and mammals. The bacterium primarily responsible is the strict anaerobe Oxalobacter formigenes. In humans, this organism is found in the colon. O. formigenes has an obligate requirement for oxalate as a source of energy and cell carbon. In O. formigenes, the proton motive force for energy conservation is generated by the electrogenic antiport of oxalate2− and formate1− by the oxalate–formate exchanger, OxlT. The coupling of oxalate–formate exchange to the reductive decarboxylation of oxalyl CoA forms an ‘indirect’ proton pump. Oxalate is voided in the urine and the loss of O. formigenes may be accompanied by elevated concentrations of urinary oxalate, increasing the risk of recurrent calcium oxalate kidney stone formation. Links between the occurrence of nephrolithiasis and the presence of Oxalobacter have led to the suggestion that antibiotic therapy may contribute to the loss of this organism from the colonic microbiota. Studies in animals and human volunteers have indicated that, when administered therapeutically, O. formigenes can establish in the gut and reduce the urinary oxalate concentration following an oxalate load, hence reducing the likely incidence of calcium oxalate kidney stone formation. The findings to date suggest that anaerobic, colonic bacteria such as O. formigenes, that are able to degrade toxic compounds in the gut, may, in future, find application for therapeutic use, with substantial benefit for human health and well-being.

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