Rifaximin, with its low systemic absorption, may represent a treatment of choice for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mainly due to its ability to act on IBS pathogenesis, through the influence on gut microbiota. The aim of the present study was to assess, by biomolecular tools, the rifaximin active modulation exerted on gut microbiota of non-constipated IBS patients. Fifteen non-constipated IBS subjects were treated with 550 mg rifaximin three times a day for 14 days. Stool samples were collected before starting the treatment, at the end of it, and after a 6-week washout period. Real-time polymerase chain reaction, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, and next-generation sequencing were applied to all the samples to verify and quantify possible microbial fluctuations. Rifaximin treatment did not affect the overall composition of the microbiota of the treated subjects, inducing fluctuations in few bacterial groups, balanced by the replacement of homologs or complementary bacterial groups. Rifaximin appeared to influence mainly potentially detrimental bacteria, such as Clostridium, but increasing the presence of some species, such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. A decrease in the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio after 14 days of treatment and bacterial profiles with higher biodiversity were observed during the follow-up compared to baseline. Rifaximin treatment, although effective on IBS symptom relief and normalization of lactulose breath test, did not induce dramatic shifts in the microbiota composition of the subjects, stimulating microbial reorganization in some populations toward a more diverse composition. It was not possible to speculate on differences of fecal microbiota modification between responders vs nonresponders and to correlate the quali-/quantitative modification of upper gastrointestinal microbiota and clinical response.
Keywords: IBS; microbiota; next-generation sequencing; rifaximin.