Maternal Stress Alters Offspring Gut Microbiota and Developing Brain

First Posted: Jun 16, 2015 09:01 PM EDT

New findings published in Endocrinology reveal that changes found in vaginal microbiome are associated with effects on offspring gut microbiota and on the developing brain, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

The neonate is exposed to the maternal vaginal microbiota during birth, providing the primary source for normal gut colonization, the host immune maturation and metabolism. It's during this very critical window of neurodevelopment that these early interactions occur, suggesting early life is an important period of cross talk between the developing gut and the brain.

During the study, researchers utilized an established mouse model of early maternal stress that included intervals of exposure to a predator odor, restraint and novel noise as stressors. Two days following birth, tissue was then collected from the mothers with vaginal lavages and maternal fecal pellets. Offspring distal gut was also analyzed. Furthermore, researchers measured the offspring brains to measure transports of the amino acids.

Findings revealed that pregnancy stress was associated with both disruption of maternal vaginal and offspring gut microbiota composition.

"Mom's stress during pregnancy can impact her offspring's development, including the brain, through changes in the vaginal microbiome that are passed on during vaginal birth," added one of the study's authors, Tracy Bale, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, in a news release. "As the neonate's gut is initially populated by the maternal vaginal microbiome, changes produced by maternal stress can alter this initial microbe population as well as determine many aspects of the host's immune system that are also established during this early period."

"These studies have enormous translational potential, as many countries are already administering oral application of vaginal lavages to c-section delivered babies to ensure appropriate microbial exposure occurs," Bale concluded. "Knowledge of how maternal experiences such as stress during pregnancy can alter the vaginal microbiome is critical in determination of at-risk populations."

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