Human resident gut microbe Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron regulates colonic neuronal innervation and neurogenic function

Rubina Aktar, Nabil Parkar, Regis Stentz, Lucas Baumard, Aimee Parker, Andrew Goldson, Arlaine Brion, Simon Carding, Ashley Blackshaw, Madusha Peiris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: As the importance of gut-brain interactions increases, understanding how specific gut microbes interact with the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is the first point of neuronal exposure becomes critical. Our aim was to understand how the dominant human gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (Bt) regulates anatomical and functional characteristics of the ENS.

METHODS: Neuronal cell populations, as well as enteroendocrine cells, were assessed in proximal colonic sections using fluorescent immunohistochemistry in specific pathogen-free (SPF), germ-free (GF) and Bt conventionalized-germ-free mice (Bt-CONV). RNA expression of tight junction proteins and toll-like receptors (TLR) were measured using qPCR. Colonic motility was analyzed using in vitro colonic manometry.

RESULTS: Decreased neuronal and vagal afferent innervation observed in GF mice was normalized by Bt-CONV with increased neuronal staining in mucosa and myenteric plexus. Bt-CONV also restored expression of nitric oxide synthase expressing inhibitory neurons and of choline acetyltransferase and substance P expressing excitatory motor neurons comparable to those of SPF mice. Neurite outgrowth and glial cells were upregulated by Bt-CONV. RNA expression of tight junction protein claudin 3 was downregulated while TLR2 was upregulated by Bt-CONV. The enteroendocrine cell subtypes L-cells and enterochromaffin cells were reduced in GF mice, with Bt-CONV restoring L-cell numbers. Motility as measured by colonic migrating motor complexes (CMMCs) increased in GF and Bt-CONV.

CONCLUSION: Bt, common gut bacteria, is critical in regulating enteric neuronal and enteroendocrine cell populations, and neurogenic colonic activity. This highlights the potential use of this resident gut bacteria for maintaining healthy gut function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1745-1757
Number of pages13
JournalGut Microbes
Issue number6
Early online date9 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron
  • colonic motility
  • enteric nervous system
  • gut microbiome
  • neuronal plasticity

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