The yield of WHP was 7.5% (w/w). The total carbohydrate contents was 95.6%, and protein content was 1.61%. WHP was seen to be composed of glucose (88.6%), galactose (9.1%), and fructose (2.3%). There was no uronic acid contained.
3.1. Normal Status and DAI scores
The rats with AAD showed loss of appetite, increased water consumption, increased frequency of defecation, and diarrhea. Compared with those in group C, the rats of group DM showed decrease in body weight, but increased water intake, suggesting the AAD rat model was successful established. The DAI reflected the diarrhea status of the AAD rats. A lower DAI value indicates a better recovery status. As shown in Table 1, WHP decreased the DAI significantly compared with the NR and DM groups, suggested that WHP obviously alleviated the diarrhea status and gut injury resulting from lincomycin hydrochloride.
3.2. Effects of WHP on Colon Structure
HE staining was the effective way to identify the morphology changes of the colon (Fig. 1). Colon of group C had normal histological structural features, which had a uniform and smooth intestinal villi. After treated with antibiotics, morphological damage was shown in the colons of group DM, mainly in the form of shorter intestinal villi, rough mucosal surface, and inflammatory infiltration. The group WHP showed improving effects in morphological structure compared to group NR, whereby the longer and denser intestinal villi, the smoother mucosal surface, more compact intestinal epithelial cells, and the reduced intestinal mucosal edema and cell shedding, the increased globet cells.
3.3. Effects of WHP on Gut Microbiota
3.3.1. Diversity of Gut Microbiota
We used ACE index analysis to identify the differences in the richness and diversity of gut microbiota. It was suggested that the richness significantly decreased in group DM compared with group C. As expected, the ACE index was recovered in group NR and group WHP (Figure. 2A). There were significant differences between rats of groups C and DM, as well as groups C and NR. Interestingly, it was not shown significant difference between groups C and WHP, suggesting that WHP could improve the recovery of the richness of the gut microbiota nearer to group C than physiological saline. It was also shown in the Venn analysis (Figure. 2B) that the total and unique OUT in groups C, DM, NR, WHP were accordance with the results of ACE index.
PCA and PLS-DA analysis were used to analyze similarities that existed in microbiota between groups. DM group showed great shift on microbiota communities compared with the group C, however, after treatment with physiological saline or WHP, there were some recovery tendency (Fig. 2C, 2D). According to PCA, the structure of micro flora community reduced which was had similarity between groups C and DM, suggesting the structural changes after antibiotic treatment. However, the structure of micro flora community of group NR and group WHP were similar and close to the group C. PLS-DA results was consistent with PCA, which showed that the microbial communities structure of each group was relative independent, and group NR and group WHP were recovered following antibiotics destruction.
3.3.2. Composition Shifts of Gut Microbiota
C, DM, NR, and WHP groups showed significant changes in the composition and amounts of gut microbial species. The four groups were mainly composed of Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria (Fig. 3A) at the phylum level. The relative abundance of Bacteroidetes was significant decrease in rats of DM group, while Firmicutes and Proteobacteria showed dramatic increase. The results in the composition of the gut microbiota as seen between the DM and C group suggested the successful construction of the AAD model which along with the microbiota dysbiosis. The Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes recovered to their normal levels, while Proteobacteria still increased in group NR and WHP.
The gut microbiota composition showed great shift among the four groups at the genus level (Fig. 3B). The relative abundances of Coprococcus and Pesudomonas were significantly increased, while Lactobacillus and Oscillospira were decreased in group DM compared with group C, respectively. In the groups NR and WHP, the relative abundance of Coprococcus, Lactobacillus, and Oscillospira were seen to have been recovered to the level of Group C. Compared with group NR, the levels of Lactobacillus and Butyricicoccus significantly increased, while Enterococcus and Allobaculum were decreased in group WHP (Fig. 3B). Although the abundance of Lactobacillus was increased both in NR and WHP groups compared with DM group, WHP treatment was more efficient than that of physiological saline.
3.4 SCFAs Production
Acetate, propionate, and butyrate were measured to investigated the effects of WHP on microbial metabolites (Fig. 4). Caecal contents of group DM revealed decreased concentrations of acetate, propionate, and butyrate compared with that of group C. Group NR and group WHP could be recovered from the acetate and propionate production significantly. The level of butyrate significantly increased in the group WHP compared with group NR (p < 0.05), while acetate and propionate didn’t show obvious changes.
3.5 Effects of WHP on the Functional analysis of the gut microbiota
The data (Fig. 5) showed that the gut microbiota mainly affected that energy, carbohydrate and amino acid metabolic processes. DM group showed a decreased energy and carbohydrate metabolic rate, and an increased amino acid metabolic rate. Compared with NR group, the WHP group of the amino acid metabolic processes were increased, but the energy and carbohydrate metabolic processes were decreased.