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The HMI™ module: a new tool to study the Host-Microbiota Interaction in the human gastrointestinal tract in vitro

Massimo Marzorati1, Barbara Vanhoecke2, Tine De Ryck2, Mehdi Sadaghian Sadabad3, Iris Pinheiro4, Sam Possemiers14, Pieter Van den Abbeele1, Lara Derycke5, Marc Bracke2, Jan Pieters6, Tom Hennebel1, Hermie J Harmsen3, Willy Verstraete1 and Tom Van de Wiele1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology (LabMET), Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Experimental Cancer Research, Ghent University, 1P7, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

3 Department of Medical Microbiology, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

4 ProDigest, Technologiepark 3, 9052 Gent, Belgium

5 Upper Airways Research Laboratory, Ghent University, Medical Research Building O, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

6 Department of Biosystems Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:133  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-133

Published: 22 May 2014



Recent scientific developments have shed more light on the importance of the host-microbe interaction, particularly in the gut. However, the mechanistic study of the host-microbe interplay is complicated by the intrinsic limitations in reaching the different areas of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) in vivo. In this paper, we present the technical validation of a new device - the Host-Microbiota Interaction (HMI) module - and the evidence that it can be used in combination with a gut dynamic simulator to evaluate the effect of a specific treatment at the level of the luminal microbial community and of the host surface colonization and signaling.


The HMI module recreates conditions that are physiologically relevant for the GIT: i) a mucosal area to which bacteria can adhere under relevant shear stress (3 dynes cm−2); ii) the bilateral transport of low molecular weight metabolites (4 to 150 kDa) with permeation coefficients ranging from 2.4 × 10−6 to 7.1 × 10−9 cm sec−1; and iii) microaerophilic conditions at the bottom of the growing biofilm (PmO2 = 2.5 × 10−4 cm sec−1). In a long-term study, the host’s cells in the HMI module were still viable after a 48-hour exposure to a complex microbial community. The dominant mucus-associated microbiota differed from the luminal one and its composition was influenced by the treatment with a dried product derived from yeast fermentation. The latter - with known anti-inflammatory properties - induced a decrease of pro-inflammatory IL-8 production between 24 and 48 h.


The study of the in vivo functionality of adhering bacterial communities in the human GIT and of the localized effect on the host is frequently hindered by the complexity of reaching particular areas of the GIT. The HMI module offers the possibility of co-culturing a gut representative microbial community with enterocyte-like cells up to 48 h and may therefore contribute to the mechanistic understanding of host-microbiome interactions.

Bacterial adhesion; Enterocytes; Shear stress; SHIME®