Initial Gut Microbial Composition as a Key Factor Driving Host Response to Antibiotic Treatment, as Exemplified by the Presence or Absence of Commensal Escherichia coli

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Aug 17;83(17):e01107-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01107-17. Print 2017 Sep 1.


Antibiotics are important for treating bacterial infection; however, efficacies and side effects of antibiotics vary in medicine and experimental models. A few studies have correlated microbiota composition variations with health outcomes in response to antibiotics; however, no study has demonstrated causality. We had noted variation in colonic expression of C-type lectins, regenerating islet-derived protein 3β (Reg3β) and Reg3γ, after metronidazole treatment in a mouse model. To investigate the effects of specific variations in the preexisting microbiome on host response to antibiotics, mice harboring a normal microbiota were allocated to 4 treatments in a 2-by-2 factorial arrangement with or without commensal Escherichia coli and with or without metronidazole in drinking water. E. coli colonized readily without causing a notable shift in the microbiota or host response. Metronidazole administration reduced microbiota biodiversity, indicated by decreased Chao1 and Shannon index values, and altered microbiota composition. However, the presence of E. coli strongly affected metronidazole-induced microbiota shifts. Remarkably, this single commensal bacterium in the context of a complex population led to variations in host responses to metronidazole treatment, including increased expression of antimicrobial peptides Reg3β and Reg3γ and intestinal inflammation indicated by tumor necrosis factor alpha levels. Similar results were obtained from 2-week antibiotic exposure and with additional E. coli isolates. The results of this proof-of-concept study indicate that even minor variations in initial commensal microbiota can drive shifts in microbial composition and host response after antibiotic administration. As well as providing an explanation for variability in animal models using antibiotics, the findings encourage the development of personalized medication in antibiotic therapies.IMPORTANCE This work provides an understanding of variability in studies where antibiotics are used to alter the gut microbiota to generate a host response. Furthermore, although providing evidence only for the one antibiotic, the study demonstrated that initial gut microbial composition is a key factor driving host response to antibiotic administration, creating a compelling argument for considering personalized medication based on individual variations in gut microbiota.

Keywords: Escherichia coli; gut microbiota; metronidazole; regenerating islet-derived protein 3β (Reg3β); regenerating islet-derived protein 3γ (Reg3γ).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Metronidazole / administration & dosage*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Symbiosis / drug effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Metronidazole