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Small intestinal levels of the branched short-chain fatty acid isovalerate are elevated during infection with Heligmosomoides polygyrus and can promote helminth fecundity

Mia H. E. Kennedy, Tara P. Brosschot, Katherine M. Lawrence, Rachael D. FitzPatrick, Jenna M. Lane, Grace M. Mariene, James D. Wasmuth,
Published: 30 August 2021

Abstract: Heligmosomoides polygyrus is a helminth which naturally infects mice and is widely used as a laboratory model of chronic small intestinal helminth infection. While it is known that infection with H. polygyrus alters the composition of the host’s bacterial microbiota, the functional implications of this alteration are unclear. We investigated the impact of H. polygyrus infection on short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) levels in the mouse intestine and sera. We found that helminth infection resulted in significantly upregulated levels of the branched SCFA isovaleric acid, exclusively in the proximal small intestine, which is the site of H. polygyrus colonization. We next set out to test the hypothesis that elevating local levels of isovaleric acid was a strategy used by H. polygyrus to promote its own fitness within the mammalian host. To test this, we supplemented the drinking water of mice with isovalerate during H. polygyrus infection and examined whether this affected helminth fecundity or chronicity. We did not find that isovaleric acid supplementation affected helminth chronicity, however, we found that it did promote helminth fecundity, as measured by helminth egg output in the feces of mice. Through antibiotic-treatment of helminth-infected mice, we found that the bacterial microbiota was required in order to support elevated levels of isovaleric acid in the proximal small intestine during helminth infection. Overall, our data reveal that during H. polygyrus infection there is a microbiota-dependent localized increase in the production of isovaleric acid in the proximal small intestine and this supports helminth fecundity in the murine host.
Keywords: polygyrus / promote helminth fecundity / intestinal helminth / isovaleric acid / microbiota / helminth infection / infected mice

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