The Infant Gut Commensal Bacteroides dorei Presents a Generalized Transcriptional Response to Various Human Milk Oligosaccharides

Sivan Kijner, Avital Cher, Moran Yassour*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a family of glycans found in breastmilk with over 200 identified structures. Despite being t​​he third-largest solid component in breastmilk, HMOs are indigestible by infants, and they serve as food for the infant gut bacteria. Most research thus far has focused on Bifidobacterium species that harbor many glycoside hydrolases (GHs) tailored to break the carbon bonds in HMO molecules. However, there are additional microbes in the infant gut, such as Bacteroides species, with increasing evidence that they, too, are able to break-down HMOs. To study the unbiased impact of breastfeeding on the infant gut microbiome, we need to investigate the underlying mechanisms of HMO utilization by all members of the infant gut. Here, we developed an optimized system for isolating Bacteroides strains from infant stool samples. We then examined the HMO utilization capacity of multiple Bacteroides isolates by performing growth curves on six common HMOs (2’-FL, DFL, 3’-SL, 6’-SL, LNT, LNnT). Isolates often displayed similar growth characteristics on similarly-structured HMOs, like sialylated or fucosylated sugars. We identified variation in HMO utilization across multiple strains of the same species, and chose to focus here on a Bacteroides dorei isolate that was able to utilize the test HMOs. We performed RNA sequencing on B. dorei cultures, comparing the transcriptional profile in minimal media supplemented with glucose or HMOs. We showed that B. dorei employs an extensive metabolic response to HMOs. Surprisingly, there was no clear up-regulation for most GH families previously known to break-down HMOs, possibly because they were almost exclusively described in Bifidobacterium species. Instead, B. dorei exhibits a generalized response to HMOs, markedly up-regulating several shared GH families across all conditions. Within each GH family, B. dorei displays a consistent pattern of up-regulation of some genes with down-regulation of the others. This response pattern to HMOs has yet to be described in other commensals of the infant gut. Our work highlights the importance of expanding the HMO-microbiome studies beyond Bifidobacterium species, sheds light on the differences across Bacteroides strains in terms of HMO utilization, and paves the way to understanding the mechanisms enabling Bacteroides HMO utilization.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number854122
JournalFrontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
StatePublished - 18 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Kijner, Cher and Yassour.


  • Bacteroides
  • breastmilk
  • human milk oligosaccharides (HMO)
  • infant microbiome
  • microbial RNA seq


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