New insights into molecular links between microbiota and gastrointestinal cancers: A literature review

Yash Raj Rastogi, Adesh K. Saini, Vijay Kumar Thakur*, Reena V. Saini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


Despite decades of exhaustive research on cancer, questions about cancer initiation, development, recurrence, and metastasis have still not been completely answered. One of the reasons is the plethora of factors acting simultaneously in a tumour microenvironment, of which not all have garnered attention. One such factor that has long remained understudied and has only recently received due attention is the host microbiota. Our sheer-sized microbiota exists in a state of symbiosis with the body and exerts significant impact on our body’s physiology, ranging from immune-system development and regulation to neurological and cognitive development. The presence of our microbiota is integral to our development, but a change in its composition (microbiota dysbiosis) can often lead to adverse effects, increasing the propensity of serious diseases like cancers. In the present review, we discuss environmental and genetic factors that cause changes in microbiota composition, disposing of the host towards cancer, and the molecular mechanisms (such as β-catenin signalling) and biochemical pathways (like the generation of oncogenic metabolites like N-nitrosamines and hydrogen sulphide) that the microbiota uses to initiate or accelerate cancers, with emphasis on gastrointestinal cancers. Moreover, we discuss how microbiota can adversely influence the success of colorectal-cancer chemotherapy, and its role in tumour metastasis. We also attempted to resolve conflicting results obtained for the butyrate effect on tumour suppression in the colon, often referred to as the ‘butyrate paradox’. In addition, we suggest the development of microbiota-based biomarkers for early cancer diagnosis, and a few target molecules of which the inhibition can increase the overall chances of cancer cure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3212
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number9
Early online date1 May 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - 2 May 2020


  • Butyrate
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum
  • Microbiota
  • TLRs
  • Wnt-β-catenin signalling


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