Intestinal Bacteria Maintain Adult Enteric Nervous System and Nitrergic Neurons via Toll-like Receptor 2-induced Neurogenesis in Mice

Shadi S. Yarandi, Subhash Kulkarni, Monalee Saha, Kristyn E. Sylvia, Cynthia L. Sears, Pankaj J. Pasricha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: The enteric nervous system (ENS) exists in close proximity to luminal bacteria. Intestinal microbes regulate ENS development, but little is known about their effects on adult enteric neurons. We investigated whether intestinal bacteria or their products affect the adult ENS via toll-like receptors (TLRs) in mice. Methods: We performed studies with conventional C57/BL6, germ-free C57/BL6, Nestin-creERT2:tdTomato, Nestin-GFP, and ChAT-cre:tdTomato. Mice were given drinking water with ampicillin or without (controls). Germ-free mice were given drinking water with TLR2 agonist or without (controls). Some mice were given a blocking antibody against TLR2 or a TLR4 inhibitor. We performed whole gut transit, bead latency, and geometric center studies. Feces were collected and analyzed by 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Longitudinal muscle myenteric plexus (LMMP) tissues were collected, analyzed by immunohistochemistry, and levels of nitric oxide were measured. Cells were isolated from colonic LMMP of Nestin-creERT2:tdTomato mice and incubated with agonists of TLR2 (receptor for gram-positive bacteria), TLR4 (receptor for gram-negative bacteria), or distilled water (control) and analyzed by flow cytometry. Results: Stool from mice given ampicillin had altered composition of gut microbiota with reduced abundance of gram-positive bacteria and increased abundance of gram-negative bacteria, compared with mice given only water. Mice given ampicillin had reduced colon motility compared with mice given only water, and their colonic LMMP had reduced numbers of nitrergic neurons, reduced neuronal nitric oxide synthase production, and reduced colonic neurogenesis. Numbers of colonic myenteric neurons increased after mice were switched from ampicillin to plain water, with increased markers of neurogenesis. Nestin-positive enteric neural precursor cells expressed TLR2 and TLR4. In cells isolated from the colonic LMMP, incubation with the TLR2 agonist increased the percentage of neurons originating from enteric neural precursor cells to approximately 10%, compared with approximately 0.01% in cells incubated with the TLR4 agonist or distilled water. Mice given an antibody against TLR2 had prolonged whole gut transit times; their colonic LMMP had reduced total neurons and a smaller proportion of nitrergic neurons per ganglion, and reduced markers of neurogenesis compared with mice given saline. Colonic LMMP of mice given the TLR4 inhibitor did not have reduced markers of neurogenesis. Colonic LMMP of germ-free mice given TLR2 agonist had increased neuronal numbers compared with control germ-free mice. Conclusions: In the adult mouse colon, TLR2 promotes colonic neurogenesis, regulated by intestinal bacteria. Our findings indicate that colonic microbiota help maintain the adult ENS via a specific signaling pathway. Pharmacologic and probiotic approaches directed towards specific TLR2 signaling processes might be developed for treatment of colonic motility disorders related to use of antibiotics or other factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-213.e8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Enteric Neural Precursors
  • Functional Disorder
  • Mouse Model
  • Nnos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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