A Single Microbiome Gene Alters Murine Susceptibility to Acute Arsenic Exposure

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Environmental toxicant exposure contributes to morbidity and mortality of many human diseases. With respect to arsenic, microbially driven chemical transformations dictate its toxicity and mobility in virtually every environment yet studied, so a general hypothesis is that the human gut microbiome determines disease outcome following exposure. However, the complex nature of the gut microbiome and the myriad of potential interactions with human cells/tissues make it challenging to quantify the influence of specific arsenic-active functions—a requisite step in developing effective disease prevention and/or clinical intervention strategies. To control both mammalian and microbial function during toxicant exposure, we genetically defined the gut microbiome of mice using only Escherichia coli strain, AW3110 (▵arsRBC), or the same strain carrying a single genome copy of the Fucus vesiculosus metallothionein gene (AW3110::fmt); a cysteine-rich peptide that complexes with arsenite, facilitating bioaccumulation and reducing its toxic effects. AW3110::fmt bioaccumulated significantly more arsenic and gnotobiotic mice colonized by this strain excreted significantly more arsenic in stool and accumulated significantly less arsenic in organs. Moreover, AW3110::fmt gnotobiotic mice were protected from acute toxicity exposure (20 ppm AsIII) relative to controls. This study demonstrates—in a highly controlled fashion—that a single microbiome function (arsenic bioaccumulation) encoded by a single gene in a single human gut microbiome bacterium significantly alters mammalian host arsenic exposure. The experimental model described herein allows for a highly controlled and directed assessment of microbiome functions, and is useful to quantify the influence of specific microbiome-arsenic interactions that help mitigate human disease.




Wang, Qian, Timothy R McDermott, and Seth T Walk. “A Single Microbiome Gene Alters Murine Susceptibility to Acute Arsenic Exposure.” Toxicological Sciences 181, no. 1 (February 9, 2021): 105–114. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfab017.
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