The bodies of most animals are populated by highly complex and genetically diverse communities of microorganisms. The majority of these microbes reside within the intestines in largely stable but dynamically interactive climax communities that positively interact with their host. Studies from this laboratory have shown that stressor exposure impacts the stability of the microbiota and leads to bacterial translocation. The biological importance of these alterations, however, is not well understood. To determine whether the microbiome contributes to stressor-induced immunoenhancement, mice were exposed to a social stressor called social disruption (SDR), that increases circulating cytokines and primes the innate immune system for enhanced reactivity. Bacterial populations in the cecum were characterized using bacterial tag-encoded FLX amplicon pyrosequencing. Stressor exposure significantly changed the community structure of the microbiota, particularly when the microbiota were assessed immediately after stressor exposure. Most notably, stressor exposure decreased the relative abundance of bacteria in the genus Bacteroides, while increasing the relative abundance of bacteria in the genus Clostridium. The stressor also increased circulating levels of IL-6 and MCP-1, which were significantly correlated with stressor-induced changes to three bacterial genera (i.e., Coprococcus, Pseudobutyrivibrio, and Dorea). In follow up experiments, mice were treated with an antibiotic cocktail to determine whether reducing the microbiota would abrogate the stressor-induced increases in circulating cytokines. Exposure to SDR failed to increase IL-6 and MCP-1 in the antibiotic treated mice. These data show that exposure to SDR significantly affects bacterial populations in the intestines, and remarkably also suggest that the microbiota are necessary for stressor-induced increases in circulating cytokines.
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