Bates, J.M., Mittge, E., Kuhlman, J., Baden, K.N., Cheesman, S.E., and Guillemin, K. (2006) Distinct signals from the microbiota promote different aspects of zebrafish gut differentiation. Developmental Biology. 297(2):374-386.
All animals exist in intimate associations with microorganisms that play important roles in the hosts' normal development and tissue physiology. In vertebrates, the most populous and complex community of microbes resides in the digestive tract. Here, we describe the establishment of the gut microbiota and its role in digestive tract differentiation in the zebrafish model vertebrate, Danio rerio. We find that in the absence of the microbiota, the gut epithelium is arrested in aspects of its differentiation, as revealed by the lack of brush border intestinal alkaline phosphatase activity, the maintenance of immature patterns of glycan expression and a paucity of goblet and enteroendocrine cells. In addition, germ-free intestines fail to take up protein macromolecules in the distal intestine and exhibit faster motility. Reintroduction of a complex microbiota at later stages of development or mono-association of germ-free larvae with individual constituents of the microbiota reverses all of these germ-free phenotypes. Exposure of germ-free zebrafish to heat-killed preparations of the microbiota or bacterial lipopolysaccharide is sufficient to restore alkaline phosphatase activity but not mature patterns of Galalpha1,3Gal containing glycans, indicating that the host perceives and responds to its associated microbiota by at least two distinct pathways.