Spinal Cord Injury Changes the Structure and Functional Potential of Gut Bacterial and Viral Communities

mSystems. 2021 May 11;6(3):e01356-20. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.01356-20.


Emerging data indicate that gut dysbiosis contributes to many human diseases, including several comorbidities that develop after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). To date, all analyses of SCI-induced gut dysbiosis have used 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. This technique has several limitations, including being susceptible to taxonomic "blind spots," primer bias, and an inability to profile microbiota functions or identify viruses. Here, SCI-induced gut dysbiosis was assessed by applying genome- and gene-resolved metagenomic analysis of murine stool samples collected 21 days after an experimental SCI at the 4th thoracic spine (T4) or 10th thoracic spine (T10) spinal level. These distinct injuries partially (T10) or completely (T4) abolish sympathetic tone in the gut. Among bacteria, 105 medium- to high-quality metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) were recovered, with most (n = 96) representing new bacterial species. Read mapping revealed that after SCI, the relative abundance of beneficial commensals (Lactobacillus johnsonii and CAG-1031 spp.) decreased, while potentially pathogenic bacteria (Weissella cibaria, Lactococcus lactis _A, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron) increased. Functionally, microbial genes encoding proteins for tryptophan, vitamin B6, and folate biosynthesis, essential pathways for central nervous system function, were reduced after SCI. Among viruses, 1,028 mostly novel viral populations were recovered, expanding known murine gut viral species sequence space ∼3-fold compared to that of public databases. Phages of beneficial commensal hosts (CAG-1031, Lactobacillus, and Turicibacter) decreased, while phages of pathogenic hosts (Weissella, Lactococcus, and class Clostridia) increased after SCI. Although the microbiomes and viromes were changed in all SCI mice, some of these changes varied as a function of spinal injury level, implicating loss of sympathetic tone as a mechanism underlying gut dysbiosis.IMPORTANCE To our knowledge, this is the first article to apply metagenomics to characterize changes in gut microbial population dynamics caused by a clinically relevant model of central nervous system (CNS) trauma. It also utilizes the most current approaches in genome-resolved metagenomics and viromics to maximize the biological inferences that can be made from these data. Overall, this article highlights the importance of autonomic nervous system regulation of a distal organ (gut) and its microbiome inhabitants after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). By providing information on taxonomy, function, and viruses, metagenomic data may better predict how SCI-induced gut dysbiosis influences systemic and neurological outcomes after SCI.

Keywords: gut dysbiosis; metagenomics; microbiome; spinal cord injury; virome.