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Elife. 2019 Jan 22;8. pii: e40387. doi: 10.7554/eLife.40387.

High-molecular-weight polymers from dietary fiber drive aggregation of particulates in the murine small intestine.

Author information

Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, United States.
Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States.


The lumen of the small intestine (SI) is filled with particulates: microbes, therapeutic particles, and food granules. The structure of this particulate suspension could impact uptake of drugs and nutrients and the function of microorganisms; however, little is understood about how this suspension is re-structured as it transits the gut. Here, we demonstrate that particles spontaneously aggregate in SI luminal fluid ex vivo. We find that mucins and immunoglobulins are not required for aggregation. Instead, aggregation can be controlled using polymers from dietary fiber in a manner that is qualitatively consistent with polymer-induced depletion interactions, which do not require specific chemical interactions. Furthermore, we find that aggregation is tunable; by feeding mice dietary fibers of different molecular weights, we can control aggregation in SI luminal fluid. This work suggests that the molecular weight and concentration of dietary polymers play an underappreciated role in shaping the physicochemical environment of the gut.

Editorial note:

This article has been through an editorial process in which the authors decide how to respond to the issues raised during peer review. The Reviewing Editor's assessment is that all the issues have been addressed (see decision letter).


colloids; depletion interactions; dietary fiber; drug delivery; flocculation; mouse; physics of living systems; small intestine

Conflict of interest statement

AP, SD, TN, JR, SB No competing interests declared, RI The technology described in this publication is the subject of provisional patent application 62/696,743, filed by Caltech on 7/11/18.

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