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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1996 May;62(5):1589-92.

Pathways of acetate, propionate, and butyrate formation by the human fecal microbial flora.

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Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research, New York State Department of Health, Albany 12201-0509, USA.


The pathways of short-chain fatty acid (SCFA; acetate, propionate, and butyrate) formation from glucose were determined for the human fecal microbial communities of two subjects. The pathways were identified by radioisotope analysis of the SCFA and CO2 obtained after incubation of fecal suspensions with glucose under 20% CO2 with [1-14C]glucose, [3,4-14C]glucose, or 14CO2. Acetate was chemically degraded to learn the labeling of the methyl and carboxyl carbons. The labeling of CO2 and acetate showed that the major route of glucose catabolism was the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas pathway, with production of CO2 from pyruvate carboxyl carbon. Labeling of the methyl and carboxyl carbons of acetate by 14CO2 or [3,4-14C]glucose proved that acetate was formed from CO2 by the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway. CO2 reduction accounted for about one-third of the acetate formed by suspensions from subject 1 and about one-fourth of the acetate formed by suspensions from subject 2. Propionate was formed by a CO2 fixation pathway, and butyrate was formed by classical routes of acetyl-S coenzyme A condensation. The amount of CO2 formed from [1-14C] glucose and acetate labeling patterns obtained with the other 14C precursors indicated that the Entner-Doudoroff, transketolase-transaldolase, and heterolactic pathways were not significant. Fermentation of cabbage cellulose by subject 1 followed the same pathways as were used for glucose. The results with suspensions from subject 2 suggested that some radioactive acetate was formed from the C-3 of glucose by the Bifidobacterium pathway.

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