Exopolysaccharides produced by intestinal bifidobacterium strains act as fermentable substrates for human intestinal bacteria

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Eleven exopolysaccharides (EPS) isolated from different human intestinal Bifidobacterium strains were tested in fecal slurry batch cultures and compared with glucose and the prebiotic inulin for their abilities to act as fermentable substrates for intestinal bacteria. During incubation, the increases in levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) were considerably more pronounced in cultures with EPS, glucose, and inulin than in controls without carbohydrates added, indicating that the substrates assayed were fermented by intestinal bacteria. Shifts in molar proportions of SCFA during incubation with EPS and inulin caused a decrease in the acetic acid-to-propionic acid ratio, a possible indicator of the hypolipidemic effect of prebiotics, with the lowest values for this parameter being obtained for EPS from the species Bifidobacterium longum and from Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum strain C52. This behavior was contrary to that found with glucose, a carbohydrate not considered to be a prebiotic and for which a clear increase of this ratio was obtained during incubation. Quantitative real-time PCR showed that EPS exerted a moderate bifidogenic effect, which was comparable to that of inulin for some polymers but which was lower than that found for glucose. PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of 16S rRNA gene fragments using universal primers was employed to analyze microbial groups other than bifidobacteria. Changes in banding patterns during incubation with EPS indicated microbial rearrangements of Bacteroides and Escherichia coli relatives. Moreover, the use of EPS from B. pseudocatenulatum in fecal cultures from some individuals accounted for the prevalence of Desulfovibrio and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, whereas incubation with EPS from B. longum supported populations close to Anaerostipes, Prevotella, and/or Oscillospira. Thus, EPS synthesized by intestinal bifidobacteria could act as fermentable substrates for microorganisms in the human gut environment, modifying interactions among intestinal populations.

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