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The significance of contact with microbes in early life for subsequent health has been the subject of intense research during the last 2 decades. Disturbances in the establishment of the indigenous intestinal microbiome caused by cesarean section delivery or antibiotic exposure in early life have been linked to the risk of immune-mediated and inflammatory conditions such as atopic disorders, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity later in life. Distinct microbial populations have recently been discovered at maternal sites including the amniotic cavity and breast milk, as well as meconium, which have previously been thought to be sterile. Our understanding of the impact of fetal microbial contact on health outcomes is still rudimentary. Breast milk is known to modulate immune and metabolic programming. The breast milk microbiome is hypothesized to guide infant gut colonization and is affected by maternal health status and mode of delivery. Immunomodulatory factors in breast milk interact with the maternal and infant gut microbiome and may mediate some of the health benefits associated with breastfeeding. The intimate connection between the mother and the fetus or the infant is a potential target for microbial therapeutic interventions aiming to support healthy microbial contact and protect against disease.
Maternal and childhood obesity in pregnancy are worrisome public health issues facing our world today. New gene sequencing methods have advanced our knowledge of the disruptive effect of birth interventions and postnatal exposures on the maturation of gut microbiota and immunity during infancy. Yet, little is known about the impact of maternal pregnancy overweight on gut microbes and related processes, and how this may affect overweight risk in offspring. To address this gap in knowledge, we surveyed human studies for evidence in children, infants and pregnant women to piece together the limited literature and generate hypotheses for future investigation. From this literature, we learned that higher Lactobacillus yet lower Bacteroides spp. colonization of gut microbiota within 3 months of birth predicted risk for infant and child overweight. The abundance of bifidobacteria and staphylococci also appeared to play a role in the association with overweight, as did infant fecal immunoglobulin A levels, glycoproteins of the gut immune system that are acquired from breast milk and produced by the infant. We proposed that pregnancy overweight influences the compositional structure of gut microbiota in infants through vertical transfer of microbiota and/or their metabolites during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Finally, we brought forward emerging evidence on sex dimorphism, as well as ethnic and geographic variation, in reported associations between maternal overweight-induced gut microbiota dysbiosis and overweight risk.
The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microbiota has been identified as an important reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) that can be horizontally transferred to pathogenic species. Maternal GIT microbes can be transmitted to the offspring, and recent work indicates that such transfer starts before birth. We have used culture-independent genetic screenings to explore whether ARGs are already present in the meconium accumulated in the GIT during fetal life and in feces of 1-week-old infants. We have analyzed resistance to β-lactam antibiotics (BLr) and tetracycline (Tcr), screening for a variety of genes conferring each. To evaluate whether ARGs could have been inherited by maternal transmission, we have screened perinatal fecal samples of the 1-week-old babies’ mothers, as well as a mother–infant series including meconium, fecal samples collected through the infant’s 1st year, maternal fecal samples and colostrum. Our results reveal a high prevalence of BLr and Tcr in both meconium and early fecal samples, implying that the GIT resistance reservoir starts to accumulate even before birth. We show that ARGs present in the mother may reach the meconium and colostrum and establish in the infant GIT, but also that some ARGs were likely acquired from other sources. Alarmingly, we identified in both meconium and 1-week-olds’ samples a particularly elevated prevalence of mecA (>45%), six-fold higher than that detected in the mothers. The mecA gene confers BLr to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and although its detection does not imply the presence of this pathogen, it does implicate the young infant’s GIT as a noteworthy reservoir of this gene.
Early patterns of gut colonization may predispose children to adult disease. Exposures in utero and during delivery are associated with the infant gut microbiome. Although ~35% of women carry group B strep (GBS; Streptococcus agalactiae) during pregnancy, it is unknown if GBS presence influences the infant gut microbiome. As part of a population-based, general risk birth cohort, stool specimens were collected from infant’s diapers at research visits conducted at ~1 and 6 months of age. Using the Illumina MiSeq (San Diego, CA) platform, the V4 region of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene was sequenced. Infant gut bacterial community compositional differences by maternal GBS status were evaluated using permutational multivariate analysis of variance. Individual operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were tested using a zero-inflated negative binomial model. Data on maternal GBS and infant gut microbiota from either 1 (n=112) or 6-month-old stool (n=150) specimens was available on 262 maternal-child pairs. Eighty women (30.5%) were GBS+, of who 58 (72.5%) were given intrapartum antibiotics. After adjusting for maternal race, prenatal antifungal use and intrapartum antibiotics, maternal GBS status was statistically significantly associated with gut bacterial composition in the 6 month visit specimen (Canberra R2=0.008, P=0.008; Unweighted UniFrac R2=0.010, P=0.011). Individual OTU tests revealed that infants of GBS+ mothers were significantly enriched for specific members of the Clostridiaceae, Ruminococcoceae, and Enterococcaceae in the 6 month specimens compared with infants of GBS- mothers. Whether these taxonomic differences in infant gut microbiota at 6 months lead to differential predisposition for adult disease requires additional study.
Breast milk constitutes one of the most important sources of postnatal microbes. However, the influence of perinatal factors on the milk microbiome is still poorly understood. The aim of our study was to assess the impact of mode of delivery on the microbiome composition and diversity present in breast milk of healthy mothers. Mature milk samples (n=10) were taken from mothers after 1 month of exclusively breastfeeding. Microbiomes from milk samples were analyzed with 16S ribosomal RNA gene pyrosequencing and targeted quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Despite inter-individual variability in bacterial composition, The Principal Coordinates Analysis clearly separated milk microbiome from mothers with vaginal delivery (n=6) from those who undergo C-section (n=4). In addition, higher bacterial diversity and richness was found in milk samples from vaginal deliveries. Quantitative PCR data showed that higher levels of Bifidobacterium spp. were related significantly to lower levels of Staphylococcus spp. Despite the low sample size, our data suggest that mode of delivery has an important impact on milk microbiome composition. Further studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm these results and to understand the biological effects of C-section associated microbes on infant’s health.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is a predominant immunoglobulin present in human breast milk and is known to play an important role in infant gut immunity maturation. Breast milk composition varies between populations, but the environmental and maternal factors responsible for these variations are still unclear. We examined the relationship between different exposures and levels of IgA in colostrum. The objective of this study was to examine whether exposures analysed influence levels of IgA in colostrum. The present study used 294 colostrum samples from the MecMilk International cohort, collected from women residing in London, Moscow and Verona. Samples were analysed in automated Abbott Architect Analyser. We found an inverse correlation between time postpartum and colostrum total IgA level (r=−0.49, P<0.001). Adjusting for maternal parity, smoking, fresh fruit and fish consumption and allergen sensitization, multiple regression model showed that IgA levels were influenced by colostrum collection time (P<0.0001) and country of collection (P<0.01). Mode of delivery influence did not appear to be significant in univariate comparisons, once adjusted for the above maternal characteristics it showed a significant influence on total IgA (P=0.01). We conclude that the concentration of IgA in colostrum drops rapidly after birth and future studies should always consider this factor in analysis. IgA concentration varied significantly between countries, with the highest level detected in Moscow and lowest in Verona. Mode of delivery effect should be confirmed on larger cohorts. Further work is needed to determine ways to correct for IgA decline over time in colostrum, and to find the cause of variations in IgA levels between the countries.
Secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) plays a critical role in gut mucosal immune defense. Initially provided by breastmilk, IgA production by the infant gut is gradually stimulated by developing gut microbiota. This study reports associations between infant fecal IgA concentrations 4 months after birth, breastfeeding status and other pre/postnatal exposures in 47 infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development cohort. Breastfed infants and first-born infants had higher median fecal IgA concentrations (23.11 v. 9.34 µg/g protein, P<0.01 and 22.19 v. 8.23 µg/g protein, P=0.04). IgA levels increased successively with exclusivity of breastfeeding (β-coefficient, 0.37, P<0.05). This statistical association was independent of maternal parity and household pets. In the absence of breastfeeding, female sex and pet exposure elevated fecal IgA to levels found in breastfed infants. In addition to breastfeeding, infant fecal IgA associations with pre/postnatal exposures may affect gut immunity and risk of allergic disease.