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Medical research: The impact of antibiotics on children's gut microbiome

Nature Communications

January 27, 2016

In Finnish children, the use of a specific group of antibiotics known as macrolides is associated with changes in gut microbial communities and an increased risk of developing asthma and becoming overweight, describes a study in Nature Communications. Macrolide antibiotics can be useful for treating lung and chest infections, and are widely used as an alternative antibiotic by people who are allergic to penicillin.

Although the authors examine changes in microbiota and incidence of disease in children exclusively over a six-month period, the study lends support to the idea that the use of certain antibiotics in early life can have negative effects on human health which start in childhood and are mediated by changes in intestinal microbiota. Use of certain antibiotics is known to be associated with an increased risk of metabolic and immunological diseases in children, and mouse studies indicate that changes in the gut microbiome play a causal role in these health problems. However, little has been known about the impacts of antibiotics on the developing microbiome of children until now.

Willem de Vos and colleagues analyse the faecal microbiota of 142 Finnish children (two to seven years-old) along with their individual antibiotic purchase and health records in order to investigate the effects of different antibiotics on the children’s intestinal microbiota and their health. They find that the use of macrolide antibiotics, but not penicillins, is associated with marked changes in gut microbiota composition that persist for over six months. In previous studies in adults and in mice, similar changes in microbiota have been associated with increased risk of developing obesity and immune-related diseases. The authors of the present study confirm a correlation between use of macrolides and increased body weight and risk of asthma in the participating children.

Although further research is needed, these results confirm and extend previous findings in mouse experiments, and indicate that macrolide use can affect the developing microbiota of children, which in turn influences their immune system and metabolism.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms10410

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