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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Gut Symbionts Lactobacillus reuteri R2lc and 2010 Encode a Polyketide Synthase Cluster That Activates the Mammalian Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor

Ozcam, Mustafa; Tocmo, Restituto; Oh, Jee-Hwan; Afrazi, Amin; Mezrich, Joshua D.; Roos, Stefan; Claesen, Jan; van Pijkeren, Jan-Peter


A mechanistic understanding of microbe-host interactions is critical to developing therapeutic strategies for targeted modulation of the host immune system. Different members of the gut symbiont species Lactobacillus reuteri modulate host health by, for example, reduction of intestinal inflammation. Previously, it was shown that L. reuteri activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-activated transcription factor that plays an important role in the mucosal immune system, by the production of tryptophan catabolites. Here, we identified a novel pathway by which L. reuteri activates AhR, which is independent of tryptophan metabolism. We screened a library of 36 L. reuteri strains and determined that R2lc and 2010, strains with a pigmented phenotype, are potent AhR activators. By whole-genome sequencing and comparative genomics, we identified genes unique to R2lc and 2010. Our analyses demonstrated that R2lc harbors two genetically distinct polyketide synthase (PKS) clusters, functionally unknown (fun) and pks, each carried by a multicopy plasmid. Inactivation of pks, but not fun, abolished the ability of R2lc to activate AhR. L. reuteri 2010 has a gene cluster homologous to the pks cluster in R2lc with an identical gene organization, which is also responsible for AhR activation. In conclusion, we identified a novel PKS pathway in L. reuteri R2lc and 2010 that is responsible for AhR activation.IMPORTANCE Temporary changes in the composition of the microbiota, for example, by oral administration of probiotics, can modulate the host immune system. However, the underlying mechanisms by which probiotics interact with the host are often unknown. Here, we show that Lactobacillus reuteri R2lc and 2010 harbor an orthologous PKS gene cluster that activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). AhR is a ligand-activated transcription factor that plays a key role in a variety of diseases, including amelioration of intestinal inflammation. Understanding the mechanism by which a bacterium modulates the immune system is critical for applying rational selection strategies for probiotic supplementation. Finally, heterologous and/or optimized expression of PKS is a logical next step toward the development of next-generation probiotics to prevent and treat disease.


Lactobacillus reuteri; probiotic; aryl hydrocarbon receptor; biosynthetic gene cluster; gut symbiont; pigment; polyketides; secondary metabolism

Published in

Applied and Environmental Microbiology
2019, Volume: 85, number: 10, article number: e01661-18

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