A New Zebrafish Model of Oro-Intestinal Pathogen Colonization Reveals a Key Role for Adhesion in Protection by Probiotic Bacteria

The beneficial contribution of commensal bacteria to host health and homeostasis led to the concept that exogenous non-pathogenic bacteria called probiotics could be used to limit disease caused by pathogens. However, despite recent progress using gnotobiotic mammal and invertebrate models, mechanisms underlying protection afforded by commensal and probiotic bacteria against pathogens remain poorly understood. In this study authors have developed a zebrafish model of controlled co-infection in which germ-free zebrafish raised on axenic living protozoa enabled the study of interactions between host and commensal and pathogenic bacteria. Researchers have screened enteric fish pathogens and identified Edwardsiella ictaluri as a virulent strain inducing a strong inflammatory response and rapid mortality in zebrafish larvae infected by the natural oro-intestinal route. Using mortality induced by infection as a phenotypic read-out, researchers pre-colonized zebrafish larvae with 37 potential probiotic bacterial strains and screened for survival upon E. ictaluri infection. Researchers identified 3 robustly protective strains, including Vibrio parahaemolyticus and 2 Escherichia coli strains. Researchers showed that the observed protective effect of E. coli was not correlated with a reduced host inflammatory response, nor with the release of biocidal molecules by protective bacteria, but rather with the presence of specific adhesion factors such as F pili that promote the emergence of probiotic bacteria in zebrafish larvae. This study therefore provides new insights into the molecular events underlying the probiotic effect and constitutes a potentially high-throughput in vivo approach to the study of the molecular basis of pathogen exclusion in a relevant model of vertebrate oro-intestinal infection.

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