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Prebiotic oligosaccharides are thought to provide beneficial effects in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals by stimulating growth of selected members of the intestinal microflora. Another means by which prebiotic oligosaccharides may confer health benefits is via their antiadhesive activity. Specifically, these oligosaccharides may directly inhibit infections by enteric pathogens due to their ability to act as structural mimics of the pathogen binding sites that coat the surface of gastrointestinal epithelial cells. In this study, the ability of commercial prebiotics to inhibit attachment of microcolony-forming enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) was investigated. The adherence of EPEC strain E2348/69 on HEp-2 and Caco-2 cells, in the presence of fructooligosaccharides, inulin, galactooligosaccharides (GOS), lactulose, and raffinose was determined by cultural enumeration and microscopy. Purified GOS exhibited the greatest adherence inhibition on both HEp-2 and Caco-2 cells, reducing the adherence of EPEC by 65 and 70%, respectively. In addition, the average number of bacteria per microcolony was significantly reduced from 14 to 4 when GOS was present. Adherence inhibition by GOS was dose dependent, reaching a maximum at 16 mg/ml. When GOS was added to adhered EPEC cells, no displacement was observed. The expression of BfpA, a bundle-forming-pilus protein involved in localized adherence, was not affected by GOS, indicating that adherence inhibition was not due to the absence of this adherence factor. In addition, GOS did not affect autoaggregation. These observations suggest that some prebiotic oligosaccharides may have antiadhesive activity and directly inhibit the adherence of pathogens to the host epithelial cell surface.