Altered Fecal Microbiome Years after Traumatic Brain Injury

Randall J. Urban, Richard B. Pyles, Christopher J. Stewart, Nadim Ajami, Kathleen M. Randolph, William J. Durham, Christopher P. Danesi, E. Lichar Dillon, Jennifer R. Summons, Charan K. Singh, Melissa Morrison, Lisa A. Kreber, Brent Masel, Aaron L. Miller, Traver J. Wright, Melinda Sheffield-Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Patients with chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI) requiring long-term, permanent care suffer a myriad of clinical symptoms (i.e., impaired cognition, fatigue, and other conditions) that persist for years beyond the acute brain injury. In addition to these comorbid clinical symptoms, chronic TBI patients exhibit altered amino acid and hormonal profiles with distinct cytokine patterns suggesting chronic inflammation. This metabolic link suggests a role of the gut-brain axis in chronic TBI. Thus, we utilized a two-site trial to investigate the role of the gut-brain axis in comorbidities of chronic TBI. The fecal microbiome profile of 22 moderate/severe TBI patients residing in permanent care facilities in Texas and California was compared to 18 healthy age-matched control subjects working within the participating facilities. Each fecal microbiome was characterized by 16S(V4) ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene sequencing and metagenomic genome sequencing approaches followed by confirmatory full 16S rRNA gene sequencing or focused tuf gene speciation and specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction evaluation of selected genera or species. The average chronic TBI patient fecal microbiome structure was significantly different compared to the control cohort, and these differences persisted after group stratification analysis to identify any unexpected confounders. Notably, the fecal microbiome of the chronic TBI cohort had absent or reduced Prevotella spp. and Bacteroidies spp. Conversely, bacteria in the Ruminococcaceae family were higher in abundance in TBI compared to control profiles. Previously reported hypoaminoacidemia, including significantly reduced levels of l-tryptophan, l-sarcosine, ß-alanine, and alanine, positively correlated with the reduced levels of Prevotella spp. in the TBI cohort samples compared to controls. Although the sequelae of gut-brain axis disruption after TBI is not fully understood, characterizing TBI-related alterations in the fecal microbiome may provide biomarkers and therapeutic targets to address patient morbidity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1051
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2020


  • long-term care
  • microbiome
  • moderate-to-severe TBI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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