Fusobacterium nucleatum secretes outer membrane vesicles and promotes intestinal inflammation

Melinda A. Engevik, Heather A. Danhof, Wenly Ruan, Amy C. Engevik, Alexandra L. Chang-Graham, Kristen A. Engevik, Zhongcheng Shi, Yanling Zhao, Colleen K. Brand, Evan S. Krystofiak, Susan Venable, Xinli Liu, Kendal D. Hirschi, Joseph M. Hyser, Jennifer K. Spinler, Robert A. Britton, James Versalovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Multiple studies have implicated microbes in the development of inflam-mation, but the mechanisms remain unknown. Bacteria in the genus Fusobacterium have been identified in the intestinal mucosa of patients with digestive diseases; thus, we hypothesized that Fusobacterium nucleatum promotes intestinal inflammation. The addition of >50 kDa F. nucleatum conditioned media, which contain outer membrane vesicles (OMVs), to colonic epithelial cells stimulated secretion of the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). In addition, purified F. nucleatum OMVs, but not compounds <50 kDa, stimulated IL-8 and TNF production; which was decreased by pharmacological inhibition of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). These effects were linked to downstream effectors p-ERK, p-CREB, and NF-κB. F. nucle-atum >50-kDa compounds also stimulated TNF secretion, p-ERK, p-CREB, and NF-κB activation in human colonoid monolayers. In mice harboring a human microbiota, pre-treatment with antibiotics and a single oral gavage of F. nucleatum resulted in inflam-mation. Compared to mice receiving vehicle control, mice treated with F. nucleatum showed disruption of the colonic architecture, with increased immune cell infiltration and depleted mucus layers. Analysis of mucosal gene expression revealed increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines (KC, TNF, IL-6, IFN-γ, and MCP-1) at day 3 and day 5inF. nucleatum-treated mice compared to controls. These proinflammatory effects were absent in mice who received F. nucleatum without pretreatment with antibiotics, suggesting that an intact microbiome is protective against F. nucleatum-mediated immune responses. These data provide evidence that F. nucleatum promotes proin-flammatory signaling cascades in the context of a depleted intestinal microbiome. IMPORTANCE Several studies have identified an increased abundance of Fusobacterium in the intestinal tracts of patients with colon cancer, liver cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, HIV infection, and alcoholism. However, the direct mechanism(s) of action of Fusobacterium on pathophysiological within the gastrointestinal tract is unclear. These studies have identified that F. nucleatum subsp. polymorphum releases outer membrane vesicles which activate TLR4 and NF-κB tostim-ulate proinflammatory signals in vitro. Using mice harboring a human microbiome, we demonstrate that F. nucleatum can promote inflammation,aneffectwhichrequiredan-tibiotic-mediated alterations in the gut microbiome. Collectively, these results suggest a mechanism by which F. nucleatum may contribute to intestinal inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02706-20
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2 2021


  • Enteroids
  • Epithelium
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum
  • Inflammation
  • Intestine
  • Microbiome
  • Organoids
  • Outer membrane vesicles
  • TLR4
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Colon/cytology
  • Extracellular Vesicles/immunology
  • Inflammation/immunology
  • NF-kappa B/immunology
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum/immunology
  • Female
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane/immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4/immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Culture Media/pharmacology
  • Cytokines/analysis
  • Epithelial Cells/drug effects
  • HT29 Cells
  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Intestines/immunology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Microbiology


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