Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an increasingly prevalent disease that currently affects ~1.3% of adults in the US. IBD is characterized by chronic inflammatory immune responses directed against the gut microbiota, and severely impedes the health of its sufferers. Current therapeutic approaches involve neutralization of pathogenic inflammatory pathways. However, many patients are non-responsive or become refractory to treatment, and the requirement for sustained administration of these agents can enhance susceptibility to infection. A major unmet clinical need entails development of improved therapeutic regimens that quell ongoing inflammation while sparing protective immunity. Strategies that seek to restore host immune- gut microbiota homeostasis through introduction of health-promoting immunomodulatory microbes (probiotics), represent an attractive alternative to blockade of immune function. To date, these approaches have demon- strated limited efficacy. Our incomplete understanding of the mechanisms through which microbes induce anti- inflammatory responses, and how transplanted microbes survive the hostile environment of the inflamed intes- tine to establish a niche have severely hampered these efforts. An approach where the optimal features from different microbes are combined, so-called designer probiotics, represents an improved treatment strategy. Knowledge gap: The identity of the bacterial pathways that actively promote intestinal anti-inflammatory im- mune responses and allow probiotic strains to colonize the inflamed intestine have remained enigmatic due to microbiota complexity and difficulties associated with the genetic manipulation of gut microbes. Hypothesis: Strain-specific differences impact the probiotic potential of gut bacterial species. Preliminary studies: Through the study of distinct strains of the genetically tractable gut symbiont Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, we have (i) identified extensive strain-level variation in the ability of B. thetaiotaomicron strains to induce accumulation of colonic Tregs in monocolonized gnotobiotic mice, (ii) revealed significant strain-level variation in the biofilm- forming capacity of different strains of B. thetaiotaomicron, and (iii) uncovered the existence of a novel, B. the- taiotaomicron-derived, immunomodulatory factor that promotes production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL- 10. Our systems provide an opportunity to leverage the relatedness of strains within a species that impart dif- ferential phenotypes to provide insight into pathways related to the optimal function of probiotics. Project ob- jective: To leverage the strain-level variation and genetic tractability of B. thetaiotaomicron to define the bacte- rial genes and molecules that most potently confer anti-inflammatory capacity to gut microbes. Impact: Results of these studies will advance efforts to develop designer probiotic therapeutics that provide durable remission from disease for IBD patients.
Aim 1 : Define the molecular basis for strain-level variation in bacterial driven colonic Treg induction.
Aim 2 : Define the B. thetaiotaomicron-derived immunomodulatory factor(s) that limit colitis.
Aim 3 : Define the genetic determinants mediating bacterial strain-level fitness in the inflamed intestine.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an increasingly prevalent disease characterized by chronic inflammatory immune responses directed against the gut microbiota (the collection of microbes and viruses that inhabit the intestine), and severely impedes the health of its sufferers. A major unmet clinical need entails development of improved therapeutic regimens that quell ongoing inflammation while sparing protective immunity. We propose to leverage strain-level variation in a model gut bacterium that is associated with imparting distinct immune phenotypes to identify health-promoting anti-inflammatory pathways to treat IBD.