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Changes in the gut microbiota of mice orally exposed to methylimidazolium ionic liquids

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tarek Mamdouh AbdelghanyORCiD, Dr Alistair Leitch, Professor Peter Blain, Professor Matthew Wright



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2020 Young et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.Ionic liquids are salts used in a variety of industrial processes, and being relatively non-volatile, are proposed as environmentally-friendly replacements for existing volatile liquids. Methylimidazolium ionic liquids resist complete degradation in the environment, likely because the imidazolium moiety does not exist naturally in biological systems. However, there is limited data available regarding their mammalian effects in vivo. This study aimed to examine the effects of exposing mice separately to 2 different methylimidazolium ionic liquids (BMI and M8OI) through their addition to drinking water. Potential effects on key target organs–the liver and kidney–were examined, as well as the gut microbiome. Adult male mice were exposed to drinking water containing ionic liquids at a concentration of 440 mg/L for 18 weeks prior to examination of tissues, serum, urine and the gut microbiome. Histopathology was performed on tissues and clinical chemistry on serum for biomarkers of hepatic and renal injury. Bacterial DNA was isolated from the gut contents and subjected to targeted 16S rRNA sequencing. Mild hepatic and renal effects were limited to glycogen depletion and mild degenerative changes respectively. No hepatic or renal adverse effects were observed. In contrast, ionic liquid exposure altered gut microbial composition but not overall alpha diversity. Proportional abundance of Lachnospiraceae, Clostridia and Coriobacteriaceae spp. were significantly greater in ionic liquid-exposed mice, as were predicted KEGG functional pathways associated with xenobiotic and amino acid metabolism. Exposure to ionic liquids via drinking water therefore resulted in marked changes in the gut microbiome in mice prior to any overt pathological effects in target organs. Ionic liquids may be an emerging risk to health through their potential effects on the gut microbiome, which is implicated in the causes and/or severity of an array of chronic disease in humans.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Young GR, Abdelghany TM, Leitch AC, Dunn MP, Blain PG, Lanyon C, Wright MC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2020

Volume: 15

Issue: 3

Online publication date: 12/03/2020

Acceptance date: 13/02/2020

Date deposited: 30/03/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229745

PubMed id: 32163446


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Funder referenceFunder name
Medical Research Council
Newton-Mosharafa Fund