Repression of Salmonella Host Cell Invasion by Aromatic Small Molecules from the Human Fecal Metabolome

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Sep 15;83(19):e01148-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01148-17. Print 2017 Oct 1.


The human microbiome is a collection of microorganisms that inhabit every surface of the body that is exposed to the environment, generally coexisting peacefully with their host. These microbes have important functions, such as producing vitamins, aiding in maturation of the immune system, and protecting against pathogens. We have previously shown that a small-molecule extract from the human fecal microbiome has a strong repressive effect on Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium host cell invasion by modulating the expression of genes involved in this process. Here, we describe the characterization of this biological activity. Using a series of purification methods, we obtained fractions with biological activity and characterized them by mass spectrometry. These experiments revealed an abundance of aromatic compounds in the bioactive fraction. Selected compounds were obtained from commercial sources and tested with respect to their ability to repress the expression of hilA, the gene encoding the master regulator of invasion genes in Salmonella We found that the aromatic compound 3,4-dimethylbenzoic acid acts as a strong inhibitor of hilA expression and of invasion of cultured host cells by Salmonella Future studies should reveal the molecular details of this phenomenon, such as the signaling cascades involved in sensing this bioactive molecule.IMPORTANCE Microbes constantly sense and adapt to their environment. Often, this is achieved through the production and sensing of small extracellular molecules. The human body is colonized by complex communities of microbes, and, given their biological and chemical diversity, these ecosystems represent a platform where the production and sensing of molecules occur. In previous work, we showed that small molecules produced by microbes from the human gut can significantly impair the virulence of the enteric pathogen Salmonella enterica Here, we describe a specific compound from the human gut that produces this same effect. The results from this work not only shed light on an important biological phenomenon occurring in our bodies but also may represent an opportunity to develop drugs that can target these small-molecule interactions to protect us from enteric infections and other diseases.

Keywords: Salmonella; aromatic compounds; invasion; signaling.