Rapid environmental effects on gut nematode susceptibility in rewilded mice

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Abstract

Genetic and environmental factors shape host susceptibility to infection, but how and how rapidly environmental variation might alter the susceptibility of mammalian genotypes remains unknown. Here, we investigate the impacts of seminatural environments upon the nematode susceptibility profiles of inbred C57BL/6 mice. We hypothesized that natural exposure to microbes might directly (e.g., via trophic interactions) or indirectly (e.g., via microbe-induced immune responses) alter the hatching, growth, and survival of nematodes in mice housed outdoors. We found that while C57BL/6 mice are resistant to high doses of nematode (Trichuris muris) eggs under clean laboratory conditions, exposure to outdoor environments significantly increased their susceptibility to infection, as evidenced by increased worm burdens and worm biomass. Indeed, mice kept outdoors harbored as many worms as signal transducer and activator of transcription 6 (STAT6) knockout mice, which are genetically deficient in the type 2 immune response essential for clearing nematodes. Using 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing of fecal samples, we discovered enhanced microbial diversity and specific bacterial taxa predictive of nematode burden in outdoor mice. We also observed decreased type 2 and increased type 1 immune responses in lamina propria and mesenteric lymph node (MLN) cells from infected mice residing outdoors. Importantly, in our experimental design, different groups of mice received nematode eggs either before or after moving outdoors. This contrasting timing of rewilding revealed that enhanced hatching of worms was not sufficient to explain the increased worm burdens; instead, microbial enhancement and type 1 immune facilitation of worm growth and survival, as hypothesized, were also necessary to explain our results. These findings demonstrate that environment can rapidly and significantly shape gut microbial communities and mucosal responses to nematode infections, leading to variation in parasite expulsion rates among genetically similar hosts.

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Leung, J. M., Budischak, S. A., Chung The, H., Hansen, C., Bowcutt, R., Neill, R., … Graham, A. L. (2018). Rapid environmental effects on gut nematode susceptibility in rewilded mice. PLoS Biology, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2004108

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