Multiple signals govern utilization of a polysaccharide in the gut bacterium bacteroides thetaiotaomicron

Nathan D. Schwalm, Guy E. Townsend, Eduardo A. Groisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The utilization of simple sugars is widespread across all domains of life. In contrast, the breakdown of complex carbohydrates is restricted to a subset of organisms. A regulatory paradigm for integration of complex polysaccharide breakdown with simple sugar utilization was established in the mammalian gut symbiont Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, whereby sensing of monomeric fructose regulates catabolism of both fructose and polymeric fructans. We now report that a different regulatory paradigm governs utilization of monomeric arabinose and the arabinose polymer arabinan. We establish that (i) arabinan utilization genes are controlled by a transcriptional activator that responds to arabinan and by a transcriptional repressor that responds to arabinose, (ii) arabinose utilization genes are regulated directly by the arabinose-responding repressor but indirectly by the arabinan-responding activator, and (iii) activation of both arabinan and arabinose utilization genes requires a pleiotropic transcriptional regulator necessary for survival in the mammalian gut. Genomic analysis predicts that this paradigm is broadly applicable to the breakdown of other polysaccharides in both B. thetaiotaomicron and other gut Bacteroides spp. The uncovered mechanism enables regulation of polysaccharide utilization genes in response to both the polysaccharide and its breakdown products. IMPORTANCE Breakdown of complex polysaccharides derived from “dietary fiber” is achieved by the mammalian gut microbiota. This breakdown creates a critical nutrient source for both the microbiota and its mammalian host. Because the availability of individual polysaccharides fluctuates with variations in the host diet, members of the microbiota strictly control expression of polysaccharide utilization genes. Our findings define a regulatory architecture that controls the breakdown of a polysaccharide by a gut bacterium in response to three distinct signals. This architecture integrates perception of a complex polysaccharide and its monomeric constituent as well as feedback of central metabolism. Moreover, it is broadly applicable to several prominent members of the mammalian gut microbiota. The identified regulatory strategy may contribute to the abundance of gut Bacteroides, despite fluctuations in the host diet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01342-16
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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