Background: Our study was part of the large European project ISAFRUIT aiming to reveal the biological explanations for the epidemiologically well-established health effects of fruits. The objective was to identify effects of apple and apple product consumption on the composition of the cecal microbial community in rats, as well as on a number of cecal parameters, which may be influenced by a changed microbiota. Results: Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of cecal microbiota profiles obtained by PCR-DGGE targeting bacterial 16S rRNA genes showed an effect of whole apples in a long-term feeding study (14 weeks), while no effects of apple juice, puree or pomace on microbial composition in cecum were observed. Administration of either 0.33 or 3.3% apple pectin in the diet resulted in considerable changes in the DGGE profiles. A 2-fold increase in the activity of beta-glucuronidase was observed in animals fed with pectin (7% in the diet) for four weeks, as compared to control animals (P <0.01). Additionally, the level of butyrate measured in these pectin-fed animal was more than double of the corresponding level in control animals (P <0.01). Sequencing revealed that DGGE bands, which were suppressed in pectin-fed rats, represented Gram-negative anaerobic rods belonging to the phylum Bacteroidetes, whereas bands that became more prominent represented mainly Gram-positive anaerobic rods belonging to the phylum Firmicutes, and specific species belonging to the Clostridium Cluster XIVa. Quantitative real-time PCR confirmed a lower amount of given Bacteroidetes species in the pectin-fed rats as well as in the apple-fed rats in the four-week study (P <0.05). Additionally, a more than four-fold increase in the amount of Clostridium coccoides (belonging to Cluster XIVa), as well as of genes encoding butyryl-coenzyme A CoA transferase, which is involved in butyrate production, was detected by quantitative PCR in fecal samples from the pectin-fed animals. Conclusions: Our findings show that consumption of apple pectin (7% in the diet) increases the population of butyrate- and beta-glucuronidase producing Clostridiales, and decreases the population of specific species within the Bacteroidetes group in the rat gut. Similar changes were not caused by consumption of whole apples, apple juice, puree or pomace.
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