The use of antibiotics in infants and young children is understood to affect the development and diversity of their intestinal microbiome and has been associated with an increased risk of the child developing various conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In a study published today in Nature Microbiology researchers examined whether this increased risk could be inherited through the gut microbial community transferred to a child from the mother at birth. The team set out to understand whether a mother whose gut microbiota had been damaged by a previous course of antibiotics – could transfer this disturbed microbiota to her children – and whether this antibiotic-effected microbiota could increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease and colitis in offspring.
Using mice for the study the team from NYU Langone Medical Center, New York transplanted a gut microbial community, damaged by antibiotics into the germ free pregnant mice and found as the resulting peturbed microbiota was then transmitted to the offspring through birth. The team then monitored the offspring and observed as the gut microbiota remained distinct from normal mice for over 3 weeks of observation.
They then found that the rates of development of colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the offspring that had received the damaged gut microbiota developed- were much higher, suggesting that antibiotic exposure to the maternal gut microbiota has effects that extend to the offspring.
By transferring microbes rather than treating mothers with antibiotics, the researchers were able to show that the antibiotic-effected microbiota, rather than the antibiotic itself, was responsible for the onset of the disease.
Through the control group in the study they were also able to show that the disease development in the offspring was exclusively due to the effects of antibiotic perturbation of the microbiota in a prior generation.
These findings are consistent with associations between early-life antibiotic exposures and enhanced IBD risk in human children.
The use of antibiotics is now understood to have a damaging implications on our gut bacteria, with repeated courses increasing the risk to our health. Their exposure has been associated with a range of chronic illnesses including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – however they are still widely over prescribed.
Given the extent of the use of antibiotics in pregnancy – the study highlights potential long-term consequences. Forms of antibiotics are reportedly used in up to 42% of pregnancies in the USA and western Europe and little is known about the impact that these antibiotics have on the offspring.
As early-life microbiota are thought to be critical for the development of a strong functioning immune system the findings may have significant health consequences.
Leaving the door open for further research into effective treatments – the team hope to understand whether this damaged microbiota – inherited from a mother can be treated with a microbiota transplant to prevent or treat the development of the disease.