Bacteroides in the infant gut consume milk oligosaccharides via mucus-utilization pathways

Cell Host Microbe. 2011 Nov 17;10(5):507-14. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2011.10.007. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


Newborns are colonized with an intestinal microbiota shortly after birth, but the factors governing the retention and abundance of specific microbial lineages are unknown. Nursing infants consume human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) that pass undigested to the distal gut, where they may be digested by microbes. We determined that the prominent neonate gut residents, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and Bacteroides fragilis, induce the same genes during HMO consumption that are used to harvest host mucus glycans, which are structurally similar to HMOs. Lacto-N-neotetraose, a specific HMO component, selects for HMO-adapted species such as Bifidobacterium infantis, which cannot use mucus, and provides a selective advantage to B. infantis in vivo when biassociated with B. thetaiotaomicron in the gnotobiotic mouse gut. This indicates that the complex oligosaccharide mixture within HMOs attracts both mutualistic mucus-adapted species and HMO-adapted bifidobacteria to the infant intestine that likely facilitate both milk and future solid food digestion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Bacteroides / genetics
  • Bacteroides / metabolism*
  • Breast Feeding
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Mucus / metabolism*
  • Mucus / microbiology
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism


  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE26772
  • GEO/GSE32207