Mucus production is initiated before birth and provides mucin glycans to the infant gut microbiota. Bifidobacteria are the major bacterial group in the feces of vaginally delivered and breast milk-fed infants. Among the bifidobacteria, only Bifidobacterium bifidum is able to degrade mucin and to release monosaccharides which can be used by other gut microbes colonizing the infant gut. Eubacterium hallii is an early occurring commensal that produces butyrate and propionate from fermentation metabolites but that cannot degrade complex oligo- and polysaccharides. We aimed to demonstrate that mucin cross-feeding initiated by B. bifidum enables growth and metabolite formation of E. hallii leading to short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) formation. Growth and metabolite formation of co-cultures of B. bifidum, of Bifidobacterium breve or Bifidobacterium infantis, which use mucin-derived hexoses and fucose, and of E. hallii were determined. Growth of E. hallii in the presence of lactose and mucin monosaccharides was tested. In co-culture fermentations, the presence of B. bifidum enabled growth of the other strains. B. bifidum/B. infantis co-cultures yielded acetate, formate, and lactate while co-cultures of B. bifidum and E. hallii formed acetate, formate, and butyrate. In three-strain co-cultures, B. bifidum, E. hallii, and B. breve or B. infantis produced up to 16 mM acetate, 5 mM formate, and 4 mM butyrate. The formation of propionate (approximately 1 mM) indicated cross-feeding on fucose. Lactose, galactose, and GlcNAc were identified as substrates of E. hallii. This study shows that trophic interactions of bifidobacteria and E. hallii lead to the formation of acetate, butyrate, propionate, and formate, potentially contributing to intestinal SCFA formation with potential benefits for the host and for microbial colonization of the infant gut. The ratios of SCFA formed differed depending on the microbial species involved in mucin cross-feeding.
Keywords: Bifidobacterium; Cross-feeding; Eubacterium hallii; Mucin; Propionate.