Biotransformation of Doxorubicin Promotes Resilience in Simplified Intestinal Microbial Communities

Ryan A. Blaustein*, Patrick C. Seed, Erica M. Hartmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Chemotherapeutic drugs can cause harmful gastrointestinal side effects, which may be modulated by naturally occurring members of our microbiome. We constructed simplified gut-associated microbial communities to test the hypothesis that bacteria-mediated detoxification of doxorubicin (i.e., a widely used chemotherapeutic) confers protective effects on the human microbiota. Mock communities composed of up to five specific members predicted by genomic analysis to be sensitive to the drug or resistant via biotransformation and/or efflux were grown in vitro over three generational stages to characterize community assembly, response to perturbation (doxorubicin exposure), and resilience. Bacterial growth and drug concentrations were monitored with spectrophotometric assays, and strain relative abundances were evaluated with 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Bacteria with predicted resistance involving biotransformation significantly lowered concentrations of doxorubicin in culture media, permitting growth of drug-sensitive strains in monoculture. Such protective effects were not produced by strains with drug resistance conferred solely by efflux. In the mixed communities, resilience of drug-sensitive members depended on the presence and efficiency of transformers, as well as drug exposure concentration. Fitness of bacteria that were resistant to doxorubicin via efflux, though not transformation, also improved when the transformers were present. Our simplified community uncovered ecological relationships among a dynamic consortium and highlighted drug detoxification by a keystone species. This work may be extended to advance probiotic development that may provide gut-specific protection to patients undergoing cancer treatment. IMPORTANCE While chemotherapy is an essential intervention for treating many forms of cancer, gastrointestinal side effects may precede infections and risks for additional health complications. We developed an in vitro model to characterize key changes in bacterial community dynamics under chemotherapeutic stress and the role of bacterial interactions in drug detoxification to promote microbiota resilience. Our findings have implications for developing bio-based strategies to promote gut health during cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00068-21
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Biotransformation
  • Chemotherapeutic
  • Doxorubicin
  • Ecological resilience
  • Gut microbiota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


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