The gut transit of T4 phages was studied in axenic mice mono-colonized with the non-pathogenic Escherichia coli strain K-12. Thirty minutes, 1 and 2 h after phage feeding, T4 phage had reached the jejunum, ileum and cecum, respectively. Phage was found in the lumen and was also associated with the mucosa. One day later no phage was detected in the feces. Compared to germ-free control animals, oral T4 phage led to a 300-fold higher fecal phage titer in mice mono-colonized with E. coli strain WG-5. The in vivo T4 phage replication was transient and reached peak fecal titers about 8 h after oral phage application followed by a rapid titer decrease over two days. Similar data were obtained in mice colonized with E. coli strain Nissle. In contrast, orally applied T7 phage experienced a massive and sustained in vivo replication in mice mono-colonized with E. coli strain WG-5 irrespective whether phage or E. coli host was applied first. T7 phage replication occurred mainly in the large intestine. High titers of T7 phage and high E. coli cell counts coexisted in the feces. The observation of only 20% T7 phage-resistant fecal E. coli colonies suggests a refuge model where phage-sensitive E. coli cells are physically or physiologically protected from phage infection in the gut. The difference between T7 and T4 with respect to gut replication might partly reflect their distinct in vitro capacity to replicate on slowly growing cells.
- Escherichia coli
- T4 and T7 phage