Antibiotics in infancy may impact adult gut health

Antibiotics in infancy may impact adult gut health
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New findings show that antibiotics for preterm or low birth weight babies can lead to adverse adult gut health. 

Preterm and low birth weight babies are routinely given antibiotics to prevent and treat infections they are at a higher risk of developing. Researchers from the University of Melbourne have found that early life administration of antibiotics in neonatal mice has long-lasting effects on their microbiota, enteric nervous system, and gut function. As a result, this could lead to those babies experiencing poor gut health as adults. 

The researchers published their study inThe Journal of Physiology. 

The long-lasting effects of antibiotics

The research team from the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Melbourne has shown for the first time that antibiotics administered to neonatal mice have long-lasting effects resulting in poorer gut health function, including the speed of motility through the gut and diarrhoea-like symptoms in adults. 

The researchers gave mice an oral dose of vancomycin every day for the first ten days of their lives. They were then treated as normal until they were young adults, where their gut tissue was then analysed for its structure, function, microbiota, and nervous system. The investigators discovered that changes were also dependent on the sex of the mice. The female mice had long whole gut transit, and the males had lower faecal weight than the control group. Both male and female mice had greater faecal water content, meaning they had diarrhoea-like symptoms. 

Further studies are required to understand the impact on gut health    

Mice have similarities to humans, but one difference is that mice are born with more immature guts and have accelerated growth due to their shorter life spans. Their gut microbiota and nervous systems are less complex than humans, therefore, the findings cannot be directly associated with human children and infants. The researchers plan to conduct further studies on the mechanism of antibiotics on gut health, the implications on the different sexes, and whether early-life antibiotic use affects metabolism and brain function. 

Lead Physiologist Dr Jaime Foong said, “We are very excited about the findings of our study, which show that antibiotics given after birth could have prolonged effects on the enteric nervous system. This provides further evidence of the importance of microbiota on gut health and could introduce new targets to advance antibiotic treatment to very young children.” 


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