Genomic and metabolic studies of the impact of probiotics on a model gut symbiont and host

Justin L. Sonnenburg, Christina T.L. Chen, Jeffrey I. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

313 Scopus citations


Probiotics are deliberately ingested preparations of live bacterial species that confer health benefits on the host. Many of these species are associated with the fermentation of dairy products. Despite their increasing use, the molecular details of the impact of various probiotic preparations on resident members of the gut microbiota and the host are generally lacking. To address this issue, we colonized germ-free mice with Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, a prominent component of the adult human gut microbiota, and Bifidobacterium longum, a minor member but a commonly used probiotic. Simultaneous whole genome transcriptional profiling of both bacterial species in their gut habitat and of the intestinal epithelium, combined with mass-spectrometric analysis of habitat-associated carbohydrates, revealed that the presence of B. longum elicits an expansion in the diversity of polysaccharides targeted for degradation by B. thetaiotaomicron (e.g., mannose- and xylose-containing glycans), and induces host genes involved in innate immunity. Although the overall transcriptome expressed by B. thetaiotaomicron when it encounters B. longum in the cecum is dependent upon the genetic background of the mouse (as assessed by a mixed analysis of variance [ANOVA] model of co-colonization experiments performed in NMRI and C57BL/6J animals), B. thetaiotaomicron's expanded capacity to utilize polysaccharides occurs independently of host genotype, and is also observed with a fermented dairy product-associated strain, Lactobacillus casei. This gnotobiotic mouse model provides a controlled case study of how a resident symbiont and a probiotic species adapt their substrate utilization in response to one another, and illustrates both the generality and specificity of the relationship between a host, a component of its microbiota, and intentionally consumed microbial species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2213-2226
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006


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