Species of Gut Bacteria Linked to Enhanced Cognition and Language Skills in Infant Boys

Summary: Infant boys with a gut bacterial composition high in Bacteroidetes were found to have more advanced cognitive and language skills one year later compared to boys with lower levels of the bacteria.

Source: University of Alberta

The University of Alberta-led research followed more than 400 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study (CHILD) at its Edmonton site. Boys with a gut bacterial composition that was high in the bacteria Bacteroidetes at one year of age were found to have more advanced cognition and language skills one year later. The finding was specific to male children.

“It’s well known that female children score higher (at early ages), especially in cognition and language,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, a professor of pediatrics at the U of A and principal investigator of the SyMBIOTA (Synergy in Microbiota) laboratory. “But when it comes to gut microbial composition, it was the male infants where we saw this obvious connection between the Bacteroidetes and the improved scores.”

“The differences between male and female gut microbiota are very subtle, but we do know from CHILD Cohort Study data that girls at early ages are more likely to have more of these Bacteroidetes. So perhaps most girls have a sufficient number of Bacteroidetes and that’s why they have improved scores over boys,” added Kozyrskyj.

The researchers, led by Kozyrskyj and associate professor of pediatrics Piush Mandhane, studied bacteria found in fecal samples from the infants and identified three different groups exhibiting similar dominant clusters of bacteria. They then evaluated the infants on a variety of neural developmental scales. Of those groups, only the male infants with Bacteroidetes-dominant bacteria showed signs of enhanced neurodevelopment.

The research replicates similar findings from a U.S. study that also showed an association between Bacteroidetes and neural development.

According to Kozyrskyj, Bacteroidetes are one of a very few bacteria that produce metabolites called sphingolipids, which are instrumental for the formation and structure of neurons in the brain.

“It makes sense that if you have more of these microbes and they produce more sphingolipids, then you should see some improvement in terms of the formation of neuron connections in our brain and improved scores in cognition and language,” she said.

According to Kozyrskyj, caesarean birth is one factor that can significantly deplete Bacteroidetes. Factors that positively influence gut microbiota composition in infants include breastfeeding, having a high-fibre diet, living with a dog and being exposed to nature and green spaces.

While the findings don’t necessarily mean children with a lower proportion of Bacteroidetes will remain behind their peers in later childhood or adulthood, the researchers believe the study offers early promise as a way to potentially identify children at risk of neurodevelopmental disorders.

This shows a baby playing with a drum
Bacteroidetes are one of a very few bacteria that produce metabolites called sphingolipids, which are instrumental for the formation and structure of neurons in the brain. Image is in the public domain

The team will continue to follow the infants participating in CHILD to determine whether the findings can be predictive of autism or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Moving forward, the researchers are also examining several other factors that may have an impact on neurodevelopment in infants, including stress and gut colonization by the bacterium Clostridium difficile.

“Over the first one to two years of life, your brain is very malleable,” said Kozyrskyj. “Now we’re seeing a connection between its malleability and gut microbiota, and I think that is very important.”

Funding: Funding for the study was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, and the Allergy, Genes, and Environment (AllerGen) Network of Centres of Excellence.

About this microbiome and neurodevelopment research news

Source: University of Alberta
Contact: Laura Vega – University of Alberta
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Bacteroides-dominant gut microbiome of late infancy is associated with enhanced neurodevelopment” by Anita Kozyrskyj et al. Gut Microbes


Bacteroides-dominant gut microbiome of late infancy is associated with enhanced neurodevelopment

Dysbiosis of gut microbiota has been retrospectively linked to autism spectrum disorders but the temporal association between gut microbiota and early neurodevelopment in healthy infants is largely unknown. We undertook this study to determine associations between gut microbiota at two critical periods during infancy and neurodevelopment in a general population birth cohort.

Here, we analyzed data from 405 infants (199 females) from the CHILD (Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development) Cohort Study. Neurodevelopmental outcomes were objectively assessed using the Bayley Scale of Infant Development (BSID-III) at 1 and 2 years of age. Microbiota profiling with 16S rRNA gene sequencing was conducted on fecal samples obtained at a mean age of 4 and 12 months.

Using clustering methods, we identified three groups of infants based on relative abundance of gut microbiota at 12 months: Proteobacteria-dominant cluster (22.4% higher abundance at 12 months), Firmicutes-dominant cluster (46.0% higher abundance at 12 months) and Bacteroidetes-dominant cluster (31.6% higher abundance at 12 months).

Relative to the Proteobacteria-dominant cluster, the Bacteroidetes-dominant cluster was associated with higher scores for cognitive (4.8 points; FDRp = .02), language (4.2 points; FDRp≤0.001), and motor (3.1 points; FDRp = .03) development at age 2 in models adjusted for covariates. When stratified by sex, only male infants with a Bacteroidetes-dominant microbiota had more favorable cognitive (5.9 points, FDRp = .06) and language (7.9 points; FDRp≤0.001) development. Genus Bacteroides abundance in gut microbiota was positively correlated with cognitive and language scores at age 2.

Fully adjusted linear mixed model analysis revealed a positive association between Bacteroidetes-dominant cluster and change in cognitive and language performance from 1 to 2 years, predominantly among males. No associations were evident between 4-month microbiota clusters and BSID-II scores.

Noteworthy is that enhanced sphingolipid synthesis and metabolism, and antagonism or competition between Bacteroides and Streptococcus were characteristic of a Bacteroidetes-dominant gut microbiota.

This study found strong evidence of positive associations between Bacteroidetes gut microbiota in late infancy and subsequent neurodevelopment, most prominently among males but not females.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.