Exposure to Stressed Mom’s Vaginal Microbiome at Birth Impacts Child’s Brain Development

Stress may have negative immunologic, nutritional and metabolic effects.

Changes in the vaginal microbiome are associated with effects on offspring gut microbiota and on the developing brain, according to a new study published in Endocrinology.

The neonate is exposed to the maternal vaginal microbiota during birth, providing the primary source for normal gut colonization, host immune maturation, and metabolism. These early interactions between the host and microbiota occur during a critical window of neurodevelopment, suggesting early life as an important period of cross talk between the developing gut and brain.

‘Mom’s stress during pregnancy can impact her offspring’s development, including the brain, through changes in the vaginal microbiome that are passed on during vaginal birth,’ said one of the study’s authors, Tracy Bale, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania. ‘As the neonate’s gut is initially populated by the maternal vaginal microbiome, changes produced by maternal stress can alter this initial microbe population as well as determine many aspects of the host’s immune system that are also established during this early period.’

In this study, researchers utilized an established mouse model of early maternal stress, which included intervals of exposure to a predator odor, restraint, and novel noise as stressors. Two days after birth, tissue was collected from the moms using vaginal lavages and maternal fecal pellets and offspring distal gut were analyzed. Offspring brains were examined to measure transport of amino acids. Researchers found stress during pregnancy was associated with disruption of maternal vaginal and offspring gut microbiota composition.

This image shows a pregnant woman's bump.

The findings demonstrate the important link between the maternal vaginal microbiome in populating her offspring’s gut at birth, and the profound effect of maternal stress experience on this microbial population and in early gut and brain development, especially in male offspring. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

These findings demonstrate the important link between the maternal vaginal microbiome in populating her offspring’s gut at birth, and the profound effect of maternal stress experience on this microbial population and in early gut and brain development, especially in male offspring.

‘These studies have enormous translational potential, as many countries are already administering oral application of vaginal lavages to c-section delivered babies to ensure appropriate microbial exposure occurs,’ Bale said. ‘Knowledge of how maternal experiences such as stress during pregnancy can alter the vaginal microbiome is critical in determination of at-risk populations.’

About this neurodevelopment research

Source: Jenni Glenn Gingery – The Endocrine Society
Image Credit: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “Alterations in the Vaginal Microbiome by Maternal Stress Are Associated With Metabolic Reprogramming of the Offspring Gut and Brain” by Eldin Jašarević, Christopher L. Howerton, Christopher D. Howard, and Tracy L. Bale in Endocrinology. Published online June 16 2015 doi:10.1210/en.2015-1177


Abstract

Alterations in the Vaginal Microbiome by Maternal Stress Are Associated With Metabolic Reprogramming of the Offspring Gut and Brain

The neonate is exposed to the maternal vaginal microbiota during parturition, providing the primary source for normal gut colonization, host immune maturation, and metabolism. These early interactions between the host and microbiota occur during a critical window of neurodevelopment, suggesting early life as an important period of cross talk between the developing gut and brain. Because perturbations in the prenatal environment such as maternal stress increase neurodevelopmental disease risk, disruptions to the vaginal ecosystem could be a contributing factor in significant and long-term consequences for the offspring. Therefore, to examine the hypothesis that changes in the vaginal microbiome are associated with effects on the offspring gut microbiota and on the developing brain, we used genomic, proteomic and metabolomic technologies to examine outcomes in our mouse model of early prenatal stress. Multivariate modeling identified broad proteomic changes to the maternal vaginal environment that influence offspring microbiota composition and metabolic processes essential for normal neurodevelopment. Maternal stress altered proteins related to vaginal immunity and abundance of Lactobacillus, the prominent taxa in the maternal vagina. Loss of maternal vaginal Lactobacillus resulted in decreased transmission of this bacterium to offspring. Further, altered microbiota composition in the neonate gut corresponded with changes in metabolite profiles involved in energy balance, and with region- and sex-specific disruptions of amino acid profiles in the developing brain. Taken together, these results identify the vaginal microbiota as a novel factor by which maternal stress may contribute to reprogramming of the developing brain that may predispose individuals to neurodevelopmental disorders.

“Alterations in the Vaginal Microbiome by Maternal Stress Are Associated With Metabolic Reprogramming of the Offspring Gut and Brain” by Eldin Jašarević, Christopher L. Howerton, Christopher D. Howard, and Tracy L. Bale in Endocrinology. Published online June 16 2015 doi:10.1210/en.2015-1177

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