Laboratory Animals - June Issue - 259

Special Issue: Microbiota

The use of non-rodent model species
in microbiota studies

Laboratory Animals
2019, Vol. 53(3) 259-270
! The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0023677219834593
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Aaron C. Ericsson

Abstract
In recent years, tremendous advances have been made in our ability to characterize complex microbial
communities such as the gut microbiota, and numerous surveys of the human gut microbiota have identified
countless associations between different compositional attributes of the gut microbiota and adverse health
conditions. However, most of these findings in humans are purely correlative and animal models are required
for prospective evaluation of such changes as causative factors in disease initiation or progression. As in most
fields of biomedical research, microbiota-focused studies are predominantly performed in mouse or rat
models. Depending on the field of research and experimental question or objective, non-rodent models
may be preferable due to better translatability or an inability to use rodents for various reasons. The following
review describes the utility and limitations of several non-rodent model species for research on the microbiota and its influence on host physiology and disease. In an effort to balance the breadth of potential model
species with the amount of detail provided, four model species are discussed: zebrafish, dogs, pigs,
and rabbits.
Keywords
animal model, comparative medicine, microorganisms, organism models
Date received: 12 April 2018; accepted: 7 February 2019

Introduction
The development and increasing availability of methods to characterize complex microbial communities has
led to a staggering number of associations between
characteristics of the human gut microbiota (GM)
and health or disease. However, the bulk of those associations are purely correlative and causative relationships in humans are difficult to identify due the
ethical implications of prospective experiments in
human subjects. Moreover, the genetic and environmental heterogeneity of human populations makes it
incredibly difficult to conclusively associate characteristics of the GM and disease phenotypes. Animal
models can often be used to circumvent those limitations and allow for prospective experimentation in controlled conditions. Additionally, the disease or
condition replicated by many animal models often
occurs in a compressed timespan relative to the
human condition being modeled. As in most fields of
biomedical research, investigations related to the GM
and host interactions are dominated by rodent models

due to their high fecundity, convenience, availability,
tractable genetics, and other reasons. That said, there
are limitations to rodent models and certain procedures
simply preclude their use. The current review will focus
on GM-centric research performed in certain nonrodent model species, and specific benefits or attributes
of each meriting consideration in experimental design.
Specifically, we address invertebrate and zebrafish
models as cost-effective precursors, alternatives, or
adjuncts to rodent models, which should be considered
in the context of the three Rs (reduction, refinement,
and replacement of animal models). The discussion
then switches its focus to three higher vertebrate
models (rabbits, dogs, and pigs), which may be more
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, University of Missouri,
United States of America
Corresponding author:
Aaron C. Ericsson, University of Missouri Metagenomics Center,
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary
Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA.
Email: ericssona@missouri.edu


https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/journals-permissions https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/journals-permissions https://www.doi.org/10.1177/0023677219834593 http://journals.sagepub.com/home/lan http://www.orcid.org/0000-0002-3053-7269

Laboratory Animals - June Issue

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