BACKGROUND: Recent findings by Tang et al. (2020) show dietary restriction (30%, 2 weeks) prevents methotrexate-induced mortality by modulation of the microbiota, specifically the expansion of Lactobacillus. While fundamentally insightful, upscaling this schedule is a major obstacle to clinical uptake. Here, we evaluate a safe and clinically achievable schedule of pre-therapy fasting for 48 h on microbiota composition, body composition and intestinal proliferation, and assess its impact on the severity of methotrexate-induced gastrointestinal mucositis using a validated preclinical rat model.
METHODS: Age- and weight-matched male Wistar rats were treated with a sublethal dose of 45 mg/kg methotrexate with or without pre-therapy fasting. The impact of acute fasting on epithelial proliferation, body composition and the microbiota was assessed using plasma citrulline, Ki67 immunohistochemistry, miniSpec and 16S rRNA sequencing. The severity of gastrointestinal mucositis was evaluated using plasma citrulline and body weight.
RESULTS: Whilst pre-therapy fasting slowed epithelial proliferation and increased microbial diversity and richness, it also induced significant weight loss and was unable to attenuate the severity of mucositis in both age- and weight-matched groups. In contrast to Tang et al., we saw no expansion of Lactobacillus following acute fasting.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that the beneficial effects of acute fasting are masked by the detrimental effects on body weight and composition and lacking influence on Lactobacillus. Future studies should consider alternative fasting schedules or aim to induce comparable microbial and mucosal manipulation without compromising body composition using clinically feasible methods of dietary or microbial intervention.