The microbiota is a major source of protection against intestinal pathogens; however, the specific bacteria and underlying mechanisms involved are not well understood. As a model of this interaction, we sought to determine whether colonization of the murine host with symbiotic non-toxigenic Bacteroides fragilis could limit acquisition of pathogenic enterotoxigenic B. fragilis. We observed strain-specific competition with toxigenic B. fragilis, dependent upon type VI secretion, identifying an effector–immunity pair that confers pathogen exclusion. Resistance against host acquisition of a second non-toxigenic strain was also uncovered, revealing a broader function of type VI secretion systems in determining microbiota composition. The competitive exclusion of enterotoxigenic B. fragilis by a non-toxigenic strain limited toxin exposure and protected the host against intestinal inflammatory disease. Our studies demonstrate a novel role of type VI secretion systems in colonization resistance against a pathogen. This understanding of bacterial competition may be utilized to define a molecularly targeted probiotic strategy.
- colonization resistance
- enterotoxigenic Bacteroides fragilis
- in vivo strain competition
- type VI secretion