The symbiotic co-habitation of bacteria in the host colon is mutually beneficial to both partners. While the host provides the place and food for the bacteria to colonize and live, the bacteria in turn help the host in energy and nutritional homeostasis, development and maturation of the mucosal immune system, and protection against inflammation and carcinogenesis. In this review, we highlight the molecular mediators of the effective communication between the bacteria and the host, focusing on selective metabolites from the bacteria that serve as messengers to the host by acting through selective receptors in the host colon. These bacterial metabolites include the short-chain fatty acids acetate, propionate, and butyrate, the tryptophan degradation products indole-3-aldehyde, indole-3-acetic, acid and indole-3-propionic acid, and derivatives of endogenous bile acids. The targets for these bacterial products in the host include the cell-surface G-protein-coupled receptors GPR41, GPR43, and GPR109A and the nuclear receptors aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), pregnane X receptor (PXR), and farnesoid X receptor (FXR). The chemical communication between these bacterial metabolite messengers and the host targets collectively has the ability to impact metabolism, gene expression, and epigenetics in colonic epithelial cells as well as in mucosal immune cells. The end result, for the most part, is the maintenance of optimal colonic health.
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