BackgroundThe standardized herbal preparation, STW 5, is effective clinically in functional gastrointestinal disorders and experimentally in ulcerative colitis (UC). The present study explores whether the beneficial effect of STW 5 involves influencing the intestinal microbiota.MethodsUC was induced in Wistar rats by feeding them 5% dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) in drinking water for 7 days. Rats were treated concurrently with STW 5 and sacrificed 24 h after last drug administration. Fecal samples were used to determine changes in the abundance of selected microbial phyla and genera using real-time PCR.ResultsInduction of UC led to dysbiosis and changes in the gut microbiota. The changes included an increase in some genera of the Firmicutes, namely Enterococcus, and a decrease in others, namely Blautia, Clostridium, and Lactobacillus. DSS further induced a marked increase in the abundance of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria as well as in the relative abundance of Actinobacteria and its genus Bifidobacterium. Methanobrevibacter levels (phylum Euryarchaeota) were also increased. Microbial dysbiosis was associated with changes in various parameters of colonic inflammation. STW 5 effectively guarded against those changes and significantly affected the indices of edema and inflammation in the UC model. Changes in colon length, colon mass index, inflammatory and apoptotic markers, and histological changes induced by DSS were also prevented.ConclusionsDysbiosis plays a contributing role in the development of DSS-induced UC. Derangements in the microbial flora and associated inflammatory processes were largely prevented by STW 5, suggesting that this effect might contribute towards its beneficial usefulness in this condition.