Miracle in the Mucin… Discovered in 2004, Akkermansia muciniphila is a relative newcomer to microbiology. Akkermansia was named for the microbial ecologist Antoon Akkermans, and muciniphila meaning preferring mucin. This organism in the phylum Verrucomicrobia was the result of a study that used purified mucin as a growth medium, looking for organisms that could use this as their food source. A. muciniphila was the result, a Gram-negative bacterium that uses mucin as its sole carbon and nitrogen source. A photo of normal healthy gut tissue with mucin producing goblet cells is shown above. Since its discovery, the behavior of this organism in vivo has been studied extensively in both mouse models and human subjects, and a correlation between the presence of A. muciniphila and overall health is becoming increasingly clear.
Because chronic diseases like obesity and type II diabetes are linked with a low abundance of A. muciniphila, its role in gut barrier could be important. For example, increased gut permeability is a characteristic of obesity, and this increase is associated with a reduced mucus thickness. However, A. muciniphila can restore the mucus layer and improve gut barrier function. It has been found that people that are lean with normal glucose tolerance have higher levels of Akkermansia than diabetics and obese individuals. (7)
A. muciniphila is integrally linked with the intestinal mucus layer, which serves as both its primary food source and habitat. This layer varies in thickness amongst subjects, but is continually replenished by goblet cells in the epithelia of the intestine. Commensal microorganisms make their home in the outer, less-dense periphery of this layer (3). Studies in Apolipoprotein E knockout mice, a model used to study cardiovascular disease and fat metabolism, show that A. muciniphila supplementation led to overall increases in the mucin layer. This thickening prevents “leaky gut” and reduces overall inflammation.(2) Additional studies also show reduced levels of Akkermansia in Alzheimer, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis patients.(8)
For diabetic patients, the role of the gut microbiome is increasingly of interest. Recent studies have shown that treatment with the common diabetic drug, metformin, led to an increase in mucin-producing goblet cells in the intestinal epithelia, which also led to an increased population of A. muciniphila in mice undergoing treatment (5). This is a tantalizing hint that the moderating effects of A. muciniphila may have an impact on diabetic patients, and more study is warranted to further examine the connection between diabetes treatment and the bacterium. In addition, It has also been found that those suffering from irritable bowel disease have lower levels of gut Akkermansia (8).
A.muciniphila has been featured in multiple supplementation strategies designed to increase the overall abundance of the organism, and evaluate whether supplementation regimens can produce positive outcomes for overall health. Early studies established that regular dosing regimens of up to 1010 bacteria per day were safe and well-tolerated. As part of the normal adult gut microbiota, A. muciniphila makes up around 1 to 3% of all microorganisms. Supplementation regimens have established that a dearth of population can be restored to this level, but that concentrations higher than this aren’t achieved. This may indicate that A. muciniphila reaches its carrying capacity in healthy adults, and that supplementation can’t bring additional benefit. (1, 4)
So how do we encourage the growth of this important bacterium? One of the best ways to increase your levels naturally is by eating plenty of high fiber plant foods that contain prebiotics and polyphenols to feed and grow those good bugs. (8)
As the understanding of the complexity of the human gut microbiota increases, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the balance of this ecosystem has diverse health ramifications. The evidence from the mouse and limited human studies confirm that Akkermansia muciniphila is linked to dramatic impacts in health and physiology. This fascinating microorganism deserves further study to fully understand its place as part of a healthy microbiome.
By Weston Mangin
Senior R&D Engineer