Intestinal bacterial β-glucuronidase (βG) hydrolyzes glucuronidated metabolites to their toxic form in intestines, resulting in intestinal damage. The development of a method to inhibit βG is thus important but has been limited by the difficulty of directly assessing enzyme activity in live animals. Here, we utilized a fluorescent probe, fluorescein di-β-D-glucuronide (FDGlcU), to non-invasively image the intestinal bacterial βG activity in nude mice. In vitro cell-based assays showed that the detection limit is 104 colony-forming units/well of βG-expressing bacteria, and that 7.81 ng/mL of FDGlcU is enough to generate significant fluorescent signal. In whole-body optical images of nude mice, the maximum fluorescence signal for βG activity in intestines was detected 3 hours after gavage with FDGlcU. Following pretreatment with a bacterial βG inhibitor, the fluorescence signal was significantly reduced in abdomens and excised intestines images. For a 4-day antibiotic treatment to deplete intestinal bacteria, the FDGlcU-based images showed that the βG activity was decreased by 8.5-fold on day 4 and then gradually increased after treatment stopped. The results suggested that FDGlcU-based imaging revealed the in vitro and in vivo activity of intestinal bacterial βG, which would facilitate pharmacodynamic studies of specific bacterial βG inhibitors in animal studies.
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