The use of antibiotics can disrupt people’s protective gut flora and leave them vulnerable to infection with C. difficile, which can cause fatal complications. Researchers are currently trying to understand more about how C. difficile disrupts the balance of gut flora. One lead in answering this question is that C. difficile is known to be one of the 18 bacterial species in the gut that produces the compound paracresol. This compound prevents the proliferation of a wide range of microorganisms, but only influences C. difficile when present at a relatively high concentration.
As recently reported in the journal PLOS Pathogens, Lisa Dawson and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have now shown for the first time that paracresol gives C. difficile a fitness advantage over other intestinal bacteria. In a mouse model, paracresol specifically targeted certain bacteria in the intestine and prevented their growth, which significantly altered the gut flora.
Furthermore, strains of mutant C. difficile that were unable to produce the compound were less able to recolonize the intestine following initial infection. The findings indicate that paracresol is an important contributor to the survival and pathogenesis of C. difficile.
“We have identified that the major gut pathogen Clostridium difficile produces the bacteriostatic agent paracresol which helps control the intestinal microbiota and provides C. difficile with a competitive growth advantage particularly after the consumption of antibiotics. This unique attribute of the pathogen may provide a novel drug target to reduce C. difficile infection", says Lisa Dawson, lead author of the study.