One significant drawback of current probiotic therapy for the prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the need for at least daily administration because of poor probiotic persistence after enteral administration, increasing the risk of the probiotic bacteria causing bacteremia or sepsis if the intestines are already compromised. We previously showed that the effectiveness of Lactobacillus reuteri ( Lr) in preventing NEC is enhanced when Lr is grown as a biofilm on the surface of dextranomer microspheres (DM). Here we sought to test the efficacy of Lr administration by manipulating the Lr biofilm state with the addition of biofilm-promoting substances (sucrose and maltose) to DM or by mutating the Lr gtfW gene (encoding an enzyme central to biofilm production). Using an animal model of NEC, we determined that Lr adhered to sucrose- or maltose-loaded DM significantly reduced histologic injury, improved host survival, decreased intestinal permeability, reduced intestinal inflammation, and altered the gut microbiome compared with Lr adhered to unloaded DM. These effects were abolished when DM or GtfW were absent from the Lr inoculum. This demonstrates that a single dose of Lr in its biofilm state decreases NEC incidence. Importantly, preloading DM with sucrose or maltose further enhances Lr protection against NEC in a GtfW-dependent fashion, demonstrating the tunability of the approach and the potential to use other cargos to enhance future probiotic formulations. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Previous clinical trials of probiotics to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis have had variable results. In these studies, probiotics were delivered in their planktonic, free-living form. We have developed a novel probiotic delivery system in which Lactobacillus reuteri (Lr) is delivered in its biofilm state. In a model of experimental necrotizing enterocolitis, this formulation significantly reduces intestinal inflammation and permeability, improves survival, and preserves the natural gut microflora compared with the administration of Lr in its free-living form.
Keywords: Lactobacillus reuteri; biofilm; necrotizing enterocolitis; probiotics.