The use of antibiotics in childhood, which alters the microbiome — or natural bacteria flora in the gut — may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other inflammatory diseases, according to an Australian study.
The mouse study, “Early-life antibiotic treatment enhances the pathogenicity of CD4 T cells during intestinal inflammation,” appeared in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
Scientists at the Monash University School of Biomedical Sciences in Melbourne investigated how early-life antibiotics treatment affects the immune system, looking in particular at a subset of immune cells called CD4+ T cells. They used two groups of mice. In one group, pregnant mouse females were treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics during pregnancy, with treatment being extended to the pups once they were born and for the first three weeks of life. In the second group, both pregnant females and pups were left untreated.
Upon analysis, the antibiotic-treated pups had lower levels of gut bacteria. Pups in both groups were allowed to age normally. At eight weeks of age, researchers analyzed their CD4+ T cells — specifically their ability to induce inflammatory disease, in this case IBD. The CD4+ T-cells from antibiotic-treated pups induced IBD much faster than those from untreated pups. Researchers found that the cells from pups treated with antibiotics showed altered levels of expression in several genes.
“Our study demonstrates that gut bacteria in early life do affect disease development in adulthood, but this response can be changed,” Colby Zaph, the study’s lead author and head of the university’s Laboratory of Mucosal Immunity and Inflammation, said in a press release. “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.”
The team suggests that altering the gut microbiome may be a viable therapeutic approach for MS, IBD and asthma.
“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,” said John Wherry, PhD, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. “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.”