Bogatyrev SR, Rolando JC, Ismagilov RF (2020) Microbiome. 2020 Feb;8(1): 19. doi: 10.1186/s40168-020-0785-4
The upper gastrointestinal tract plays a prominent role in human physiology as the primary site for enzymatic digestion and nutrient absorption, immune sampling, and drug uptake. Alterations to the small intestine microbiome have been implicated in various human diseases, such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and inflammatory bowel conditions. Yet, the physiological and functional roles of the small intestine microbiota in humans remain poorly characterized because of the complexities associated with its sampling. Rodent models are used extensively in microbiome research and enable the spatial, temporal, compositional, and functional interrogation of the gastrointestinal microbiota and its effects on the host physiology and disease phenotype. Classical, culture-based studies have documented that fecal microbial self-reinoculation (via coprophagy) affects the composition and abundance of microbes in the murine proximal gastrointestinal tract. This pervasive self-reinoculation behavior could be a particularly relevant study factor when investigating small intestine microbiota. Modern microbiome studies either do not take self-reinoculation into account, or assume that approaches such as single housing mice or housing on wire mesh floors eliminate it. These assumptions have not been rigorously tested with modern tools. Here, we used quantitative 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, quantitative microbial functional gene content inference, and metabolomic analyses of bile acids to evaluate the effects of self-reinoculation on microbial loads, composition, and function in the murine upper gastrointestinal tract.
In coprophagic mice, continuous self-exposure to the fecal flora had substantial quantitative and qualitative effects on the upper gastrointestinal microbiome. These differences in microbial abundance and community composition were associated with an altered profile of the small intestine bile acid pool, and, importantly, could not be inferred from analyzing large intestine or stool samples. Overall, the patterns observed in the small intestine of non-coprophagic mice (reduced total microbial load, low abundance of anaerobic microbiota, and bile acids predominantly in the conjugated form) resemble those typically seen in the human small intestine.
Future studies need to take self-reinoculation into account when using mouse models to evaluate gastrointestinal microbial colonization and function in relation to xenobiotic transformation and pharmacokinetics or in the context of physiological states and diseases linked to small intestine microbiome and to small intestine dysbiosis. Video abstract.