Within 1 week following high-dose Toxoplasma gondii infection, mice develop lethal necrotizing ileitis. However, data from a subacute T. gondii-induced ileitis model are scarce. Therefore, mice harboring a human gut microbiota were perorally infected with one cyst of T. gondii. Within 9 days post-infection, the intestinal microbiota composition shifted towards higher loads of commensal enterobacteria and enterococci. Following T. gondii infection, mice were clinically only mildly affected, whereas ≈60% of mice displayed fecal blood and mild-to-moderate ileal histopathological changes. Intestinal inflammation was further characterized by increased apoptotic intestinal epithelial cells, which were accompanied by elevated proliferating gut epithelial cell numbers. As compared to naive controls, infected mice displayed elevated numbers of intestinal T lymphocytes and regulatory T-cells and increased pro-inflammatory mediator secretion. Remarkably, T. gondii-induced apoptotic and pro-inflammatory immune responses were not restricted to the gut, but could also be observed in extra-intestinal compartments including kidney, liver, and lung. Strikingly, low-dose T. gondii infection resulted in increased serum levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. In conclusion, the here presented subacute ileitis model following peroral low-dose T. gondii infection of humanized mice allows for detailed investigations of the molecular mechanism underlying the “ménage à trois” of pathogens, human gut microbiota, and immunity.
This review elaborates the development of germfree and gnotobiotic animal models and their application in the scientific field to unravel mechanisms underlying host—microbe interactions and distinct diseases. Strictly germfree animals are raised in isolators and not colonized by any organism at all. The germfree state is continuously maintained by birth, raising, housing and breeding under strict sterile conditions. However, isolator raised germfree mice are exposed to a stressful environment and exert an underdeveloped immune system. To circumvent these physiological disadvantages depletion of the bacterial microbiota in conventionally raised and housed mice by antibiotic treatment has become an alternative approach. While fungi and parasites are not affected by antibiosis, the bacterial microbiota in these “secondary abiotic mice” have been shown to be virtually eradicated. Recolonization of isolator raised germfree animals or secondary abiotic mice results in a gnotobiotic state. Both, germfree and gnotobiotic mice have been successfully used to investigate biological functions of the conventional microbiota in health and disease. Particularly for the development of novel clinical applications germfree mice are widely used tools, as summarized in this review further focusing on the modulation of bacterial microbiota in laboratory mice to better mimic conditions in the human host.