Developmental Regulation of Drug-Processing Genes in Livers of Germ-Free Mice

Toxicol Sci. 2015 Sep;147(1):84-103. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfv110. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Very little is known about the effect of gut microbiota on the ontogeny of drug-processing genes (DPGs) in liver. In this study, livers were harvested from conventional (CV) and germ-free (GF) male and female mice from 1 to 90 days of age. RNA-Seq in livers of 90-day-old male mice showed that xenobiotic metabolism was the most downregulated pathway within the mRNA transcriptome in absence of intestinal bacteria. In male livers, the mRNAs of 67 critical DPGs partitioned into 4 developmental patterns (real-time-quantitative polymerase chain reaction): Pattern-1 gradually increased to adult levels in livers of CV mice and were downregulated in livers of GF mice, as exemplified by the major drug-metabolizing enzymes cytochrome 3a (Cyp3a) family, which are prototypical pregnane X receptor (PXR)-target genes. Genes in Pattern-2 include Cyp1a2 (aryl hydrocarbon receptor-target gene), Cyp2c family, and Cyp2e1, which were all upregulated mainly at 90 days of age; as well as the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α (PPARα)-target genes Cyp4a family and Aldh3a2, which were upregulated not only in 90-days adult age, but also between neonatal and adolescent ages (from 1 to 30 days of age). Genes in Pattern-3 were enriched predominantly in livers of 15-day-old mice, among which the sterol-efflux transporter dimers Abcg5/Abcg8 were downregulated in GF mice. Genes in Pattern-4 were neonatal-enriched, among which the transporter Octn1 mRNA tended to be lower in GF mice at younger ages but higher in adult GF mice as compared with age-matched CV mice. Protein assays confirmed the downregulation of the PXR-target gene Cyp3a protein (Western-blot and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectroscopy), and decreased Cyp3a enzyme activities in male GF livers. Increased microsomal-Cyp4a proteins and nuclear-PPARα were also observed in male GF livers. Interestingly, in contrast to male livers, the mRNAs of Cyp2c or Cyp4a were not readily upregulated in female GF livers approaching adult age, suggesting the maturation of female-specific hormones interferes with the interactions between intestinal microbiota and DPG ontogeny. In conclusion, intestinal microbiota markedly impacts the ontogeny of many hepatic DPGs in a gender-specific manner.

Keywords: drug-processing genes; germ-free; liver development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Alanine Transaminase / biosynthesis
  • Alanine Transaminase / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Germ-Free Life*
  • Liver / enzymology*
  • Liver / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • PPAR gamma / biosynthesis
  • PPAR gamma / genetics
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Transcriptome
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism


  • PPAR gamma
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Pregnane X Receptor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • Xenobiotics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Alanine Transaminase