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Babies' Health: Antibiotics Can Cause Gut Microbiome Disturbances in Infants

Jun 16, 2016 08:12 AM EDT
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Scientists capture the spread and evolution of bacteria

A new study revealed that antibiotic exposure, in addition to mode of birth- cesarean or vaginal, and diet can cause disruption in the development of intestinal microbial population during the first three years of life of children.

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggests that repeated antimicrobial treatment of children during their early years can lower the microbial diversity in their guts and may also produce antibiotic resistant genes for a period of time.

"One of the key motivations of microbiome research is that the microbial population of early childhood appears to be critical to human health, in that decreased diversity of the gut microbiome has been implicated in a number of allergic and autoimmune diseases," said Ramnik Xavier, MD, PhD, chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Gastrointestinal Unit and an institute member at the Broad Institute, in a statement.

Disturbances in the diversity of gut microbes have been previously linked to obesity, asthma and allergies due to the important role of microbes in regulating the body's metabolism and immune defenses.

However, the development of gut microbiome during early childhood is not yet fully understood, let alone the ability of the community of bugs to respond and recover from environmental perturbations, including those from antibiotic treatment, cesarean section (versus vaginal delivery), and formula feeding (compared to breast-feeding).

For the study, researchers enrolled 39 children, in which 20 children were receiving from 9 to 15 antibiotic treatments for respiratory or ear infections. Using a standard, RNA-based sequencing procedure, researchers analyzed stool samples from each participant every month to identify microbial populations.

The researchers then found out that children exposed to antibiotic treatment have a reduction in the diversity of their microbial population, with bacterial species tended to be fewer and dominated by a single strain. The researchers also discovered that the antibiotic-exposed children were more likely to have less stable microbiomes compared to those who did not receive antibiotic treatment.

Researchers also noted the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes in children exposed to antibiotic. These genes rose rapidly during the treatment. However, the levels of resistant genes quickly dropped after the cessation of the treatment.

According to a press release, researchers believed that the methods used in their study could lead to better understanding of the natural history of the infant gut microbiome and potential effects of antibiotics and environmental factors.

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