Antibiotic perturbation of gut bacteria does not significantly alter host responses to ocular disease in a songbird species

Chava L. Weitzman, Lisa K. Belden, Meghan May, Marissa M. Langager, Rami A. Dalloul, Dana M. Hawley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Downloads (Pure)


    Bacterial communities in and on wild hosts are increasingly appreciated for their importance in host health. Through both direct and indirect interactions, bacteria lining vertebrate gut mucosa provide hosts protection against infectious pathogens, sometimes even in distal body regions through immune regulation. In house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), the bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) causes conjunctivitis, with ocular inflammation mediated by pro- and anti- inflammatory cytokines and infection triggering MG-specific antibodies. Here, we tested the role of gut bacteria in host responses to MG by using oral antibiotics to perturb bacteria in the gut of captive house finches prior to experimental inoculation with MG. We found no clear support for an impact of gut bacterial disruption on conjunctival pathology, MG load, or plasma antibody levels. However, there was a non-significant trend for birds with intact gut communities to have greater conjunctival pathology, suggesting a possible impact of gut bacteria on pro-inflammatory cytokine stimulation. Using 16S bacterial rRNA amplicon sequencing, we found dramatic differences in cloacal bacterial community composition between captive, wild-caught house finches in our experiment and free-living finches from the same population, with lower bacterial richness and core communities composed of fewer genera in captive finches. We hypothesize that captivity may have affected the strength of results in this experiment, necessitating further study with this consideration. The abundance of anthropogenic impacts on wildlife and their bacterial communities, alongside the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, highlights the importance of studies addressing the role of commensal bacteria in health and disease, and the consequences of gut bacterial shifts on wild hosts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere13559
    Pages (from-to)1-24
    Number of pages24
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

    Cite this