The Human Gut Microbe Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron Suppresses Toxin Release from Clostridium difficile by Inhibiting Autolysis

Antibiotics (Basel). 2021 Feb 15;10(2):187. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics10020187.


Disruption of the human gut microbiota by antibiotics can lead to Clostridium difficile (CD)-associated diarrhea. CD overgrowth and elevated CD toxins result in gut inflammation. Herein, we report that a gut symbiont, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (BT), suppressed CD toxin production. The suppressive components are present in BT culture supernatant and are both heat- and proteinase K-resistant. Transposon-based mutagenesis indicated that the polysaccharide metabolism of BT is involved in the inhibitory effect. Among the genes identified, we focus on the methylerythritol 4-phosphate pathway gene gcpE, which supplies the isoprenoid backbone to produce the undecaprenyl phosphate lipid carrier that transports oligosaccharides across the membrane. Polysaccharide fractions prepared from the BT culture suppressed CD toxin production in vitro; the inhibitory effect of polysaccharide fractions was reduced in the gcpE mutant (ΔgcpE). The inhibitory effect of BT-derived polysaccharide fraction was abrogated by lysozyme treatment, indicating that cellwall-associated glycans are attributable to the inhibitory effect. BT-derived polysaccharide fraction did not affect CD toxin gene expression or intracellular toxin levels. An autolysis assay showed that CD cell autolysis was suppressed by BT-derived polysaccharide fraction, but the effect was reduced with that of ΔgcpE. These results indicate that cell wall-associated glycans of BT suppress CD toxin release by inhibiting cell autolysis.

Keywords: Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron; Clostridium difficile; autolysis; cell wall; toxin.