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Proximal colon–derived O-glycosylated mucus encapsulates and modulates the microbiota

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Science  23 Oct 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6515, pp. 467-472
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay7367

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So much more to mucus

Mammals accommodate a dense community of metabolically active microorganisms in their gut. This is not a passive relationship, and host and microbe have antagonistic as well as mutualistic responses to each other. Using a whole-colon imaging method in mice, Bergstrom et al. looked at the role of colonic mucus in segregating the microbiota from host cells during elimination of feces (see the Perspective by Birchenough and Johansson). Host goblet cells synthesize two forms of mucin that differ in branched chain O-glycosylation and the site of production in the colon. A “thick” mucus in the proximal, ascending colon wraps the microbiota to form fecal pellets. Transit along the distal, descending colon is lubricated by “thin” mucus that transiently links with the thick mucus. Normal mucus encapsulation prevents inflammation and hyperplasia and thus is important for maintenance of a healthy gut.

Science, this issue p. 467; see also p. 402

Abstract

Colon mucus segregates the intestinal microbiota from host tissues, but how it organizes to function throughout the colon is unclear. In mice, we found that colon mucus consists of two distinct O-glycosylated entities of Muc2: a major form produced by the proximal colon, which encapsulates the fecal material including the microbiota, and a minor form derived from the distal colon, which adheres to the major form. The microbiota directs its own encapsulation by inducing Muc2 production from proximal colon goblet cells. In turn, O-glycans on proximal colon–derived Muc2 modulate the structure and function of the microbiota as well as transcription in the colon mucosa. Our work shows how proximal colon control of mucin production is an important element in the regulation of host-microbiota symbiosis.

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