Phase-variable bacteria simultaneously express multiple capsules

Samantha A. Hsieh, David L. Donermeyer, Stephen C. Horvath, Paul M. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Capsular polysaccharides (CPSs) protect bacteria from host and environmental factors. Many bacteria can express different CPSs and these CPSs are phase variable. For example, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta) is a prominent member of the human gut microbiome and expresses eight different capsular polysaccharides. Bacteria, including B. theta, have been shown to change their CPSs to adapt to various niches such as immune, bacteriophage, and antibiotic perturbations. However, there are limited tools to study CPSs and fundamental questions regarding phase variance, including if gut bacteria can express more than one capsule at the same time, remain unanswered. To better understand the roles of different CPSs, we generated a B. theta CPS1-specific antibody and a flow cytometry assay to detect CPS expression in individual bacteria in the gut microbiota. Using these novel tools, we report for the first time that bacteria can simultaneously express multiple CPSs. We also observed that nutrients such as glucose and salts had no effect on CPS expression. The ability to express multiple CPSs at the same time may provide bacteria with an adaptive advantage to thrive amid changing host and environmental conditions, especially in the intestine.

Original languageEnglish
Article number001066
JournalMicrobiology (United Kingdom)
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • Capsular polysaccharide
  • Microbiome
  • Phase-variable


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