Early life antibiotic use could lead to inflammatory gut diseases in adulthood

10 April 2017

New research involving mice has found that antibiotic use in early life that alters the development and growth of gut bacteria, may contribute to the development of inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and multiple sclerosis.

The research, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, adds more evidence to suggest that altering gut flora may be a viable treatment strategy for some inflammatory diseases.

Study author, Colby Zaph from Australia's Monash University, says the results should prompt a rethink on the use of antibiotics and the use of pre and probiotics.  

"Our study demonstrates that gut bacteria in early life do affect disease development in adulthood, but this response can be changed," he says.

"This has important ramifications for the use of pre- and probiotics, the administration of antibiotics to neonates, and our understanding of how gut bacteria play a critical role in influencing the development of inflammatory diseases such as IBD."

In this study, Zaph and colleagues used two groups of mice. The first group included pregnant females treated with broad spectrum antibiotics during pregnancy and pups treated with broad spectrum antibiotics for the first three weeks of life. The second group was a control group that consisted of untreated pregnant mothers and pups.

The pups in the treated group were weaned at three weeks of age and antibiotic treatment was stopped at the same time. These pups had reduced levels of gut bacteria and were allowed to age normally.

At eight weeks of age, immune cells (CD4 T cells) from both the treated and untreated pups were examined for their ability to induce irritable bowel disease in other mice. The immune cells from antibiotic-treated mice induced a more rapid and more severe disease than those from the untreated mice.

The editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Dr John Wherry, says: "Our intestinal commensal bacteria are now understood to have a major role in shaping immune health and disease, but the details for this process remain poorly understood.”

"These new studies provide an important clue as to how the early signals from our gut bacteria shape key immune cells and how these neonatal events can shape disease potential later in life."