Human microbiome composition is closely tied to health, but how the host manages its microbial inhabitants remains unclear. One important, but understudied, factor is the natural host environment: mucus, which contains gel-forming glycoproteins (mucins) that display hundreds of glycan structures with potential regulatory function. Leveraging a tractable culture-based system to study how mucins influence oral microbial communities, we found that mucin glycans enable the coexistence of diverse microbes, while resisting disease-associated compositional shifts. Mucins from tissues with unique glycosylation differentially tuned microbial composition, as did isolated mucin glycan libraries, uncovering the importance of specific glycan patterns in microbiome modulation. We found that mucins shape microbial communities in several ways: serving as nutrients to support metabolic diversity, organizing spatial structure through reduced aggregation, and possibly limiting antagonism between competing taxa. Overall, this work identifies mucin glycans as a natural host mechanism and potential therapeutic intervention to maintain healthy microbial communities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology