Background: Inappropriate cross talk between mammals and their gut microbiota may trigger intestinal inflammation and drive extra-intestinal immune-mediated diseases. Epithelial cells constitute the interface between gut microbiota and host tissue, and may regulate host responses to commensal enteric bacteria. Gnotobiotic animals represent a powerful approach to study bacterial-host interaction but are not readily accessible to the wide scientific community. We aimed at refining a protocol that in a robust manner would deplete the cultivable intestinal microbiota of conventionally raised mice and that would prove to have significant biologic validity.
Methodology/principal findings: Previously published protocols for depleting mice of their intestinal microbiota by administering broad-spectrum antibiotics in drinking water were difficult to reproduce. We show that twice daily delivery of antibiotics by gavage depleted mice of their cultivable fecal microbiota and reduced the fecal bacterial DNA load by 400 fold while ensuring the animals' health. Mice subjected to the protocol for 17 days displayed enlarged ceca, reduced Peyer's patches and small spleens. Antibiotic treatment significantly reduced the expression of antimicrobial factors to a level similar to that of germ-free mice and altered the expression of 517 genes in total in the colonic epithelium. Genes involved in cell cycle were significantly altered concomitant with reduced epithelial proliferative activity in situ assessed by Ki-67 expression, suggesting that commensal microbiota drives cellular proliferation in colonic epithelium.
Conclusion: We present a robust protocol for depleting conventionally raised mice of their cultivatable intestinal microbiota with antibiotics by gavage and show that the biological effect of this depletion phenocopies physiological characteristics of germ-free mice.