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Nat Commun. 2013;4:1465. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2478.

Bacteroides fragilis polysaccharide A is necessary and sufficient for acute activation of intestinal sensory neurons.

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  • 1McMaster Brain-Body Institute, St. Joseph's Healthcare, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 4A6.


Symbionts or probiotics are known to affect the nervous system. To understand the mechanisms involved, it is important to measure sensory neuron responses and identify molecules responsible for this interaction. Here we test the effects of adding Lactobacillus rhamnosus (JB-1) and Bacteroides fragilis to the epithelium while making voltage recordings from intestinal primary afferent neurons. Sensory responses are recorded within 8 s of applying JB-1 and excitability facilitated within 15 min. Bacteroides fragilis produces similar results, as does its isolated, capsular exopolysaccharide, polysaccharide A. Lipopolysaccharide-free polysaccharide A completely mimics the neuronal effects of the parent organism. Experiments with a mutant Bacteroides fragilis devoid of polysaccharide A shows that polysaccharide A is necessary and sufficient for the neuronal effects. Complex carbohydrates have not been reported before as candidates for such signalling between symbionts and the host. These observations indicate new neuronal targets and invite further study of bacterial carbohydrates as inter-kingdom signalling molecules between beneficial bacteria and sensory neurons.

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