Project Wonder - The art of science at the Medical College of Wisconsin

Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Endothelial Function

Can bacteria in the gut predict the severity of a potential heart attack? It may even be able to help improve diagnosis and treatment of heart disease according to Michael Widlansky, MD, MPH, Northwestern Mutual Professor of Cardiology and professor of medicine, pharmacology and toxicology.

MCW scientists John Baker and Nita Salzman demonstrated a link between bacteria living in the gut and heart disease by treating rodents predisposed to heart disease with antibiotics. The treatment reduced the size of heart attacks and the level of the hormone leptin in the bloodstream, which appears to play a messenger role connecting gut bacteria behavior to heart health. Drs. Baker and Salzman found that treating the same rodents with a probiotic containing Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, a bacteria known to reduce leptin levels, generated a very similar result. In humans, studies have shown that gut bacteria play a role in controlling systemic inflammation in which the body’s immune system is more active than it should be – increasing the risk of heart disease and other conditions.

Based on these and other findings, Dr. Widlansky is running a clinical trial testing the anti-inflammatory properties of a Lactobacillus plantarum 299v probiotic in heart disease patients. His team will measure the effect of the treatment on reducing markers of inflammation in blood samples and increasing blood vessel dilation as a signal of improved vessel health. Dr. Widlansky published findings from a pilot study of this probiotic treatment protocol in 2018 that found reduced inflammatory biomarkers in blood plasma and improved blood vessel function in 20 individuals. The clinical trial will expand upon these results significantly with a goal of recruiting more than 200 participants.

Artwork by Izamar Virafuentes
Research by Dr. Michael Widlansky
Animation by Alex Boyes