NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The average child in the United States receives about three different antibiotic treatments before reaching their second birthday. Today, researchers at Rutgers University are finding that exposure to antibiotics early in life can actually interfere with brain development in areas responsible for both cognitive and emotional functioning.
On a more detailed level, this new research indicates that penicillin is able to modify both the body’s gut microbiome and elements of gene expression in key areas of the developing brain. The microbiome refers to the trillions of beneficial microorganisms and bacteria living in the human body. Gene expression, on the other hand, helps cells react and adapt to a changing environment.
The study authors believe their work argues for reducing the widespread use of antibiotics in order to avoid neurodevelopmental problems. Disturbingly, penicillin and other similar drugs such as ampicillin and amoxicillin are the most common antibiotics prescribed by doctors for young children.
“Our previous work has shown that exposure of young animals to antibiotics alters their metabolism and immunity. The third important development in early life concerns the brain. This study is preliminary but shows a correlation between microbiome modification and changes in the brain that should be explored further, ”said lead author Martin Blaser, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers, in an academic statement. .
More evidence that the ‘gut-brain axis’ is the key to health
The researchers made these findings by comparing two groups of mice. The team exposed one group to low-dose penicillin while still in the womb, while the second group was not. Rodents given penicillin showed significant changes in their gut microbiota. In addition, these mice also exhibited altered gene expression in the frontal cortex and amygdala of their brains. These two areas are essential for the development of memory, as well as for fear and stress reactions.
The study’s authors say it’s becoming increasingly evident that what’s going on in our stomachs and intestinal tracts influence brain signaling; a connection that scientists call the “gut-brain axis”.
However, if something disrupts this pathway, it can lead to permanent structural and functional changes in the brain. Although unconfirmed, such disturbances can one day even lead to neuropsychiatric or neurodegenerative disorders years or decades later.
“Early childhood is a critical time for neurodevelopment,” adds Blaser. “Over the past few decades, there has been an increased incidence of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities. While increased awareness and diagnosis are likely contributing factors, disruptions in brain gene expression early in development could also be responsible. “
In the future, more research is needed to conclusively determine whether antibiotics indeed directly alter brain development, as well as whether molecules from the microbiome traveling to the brain end up disrupting gene activity and causing disease. cognitive problems.
The study appears in the journal iScience.