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Gut bacteria influence brain development in premature infants

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Gut bacteria influence brain development in premature infants

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Extremely premature infants are at a high risk for brain damage. Researchers have now found possible targets for the early treatment of such damage outside the brain: Bacteria in the gut of premature infants may play a key role. The research found that the overgrowth of the gastrointestinal tract with the bacterium Klebsiella is associated with an increased presence of certain immune cells and the development of neurological damage in premature babies.

Published: September 3, 2021

Source: University of Vienna

The early development of the gut, the brain and the immune system are closely interrelated. 

Researchers investigated the role the gut-brain axis plays in the brain development of extreme preterm infants. "The microorganisms of the gut microbiome are in equilibrium in healthy people. However, especially in premature babies, whose immune system and microbiome have not been able to develop fully, shifts are quite likely to occur. These shifts may result in negative effects on the brain.

Starting points for the development of appropriate therapies are provided by the biomarkers that the interdisciplinary team was able to identify. "Our data show that excessive growth of the bacterium Klebsiella and the associated elevated T-cell levels can apparently exacerbate brain damage," explains Lukas Wisgrill, Neonatologist from the Division of Neonatology, Pediatric Intensive Care Medicine and Neuropediatrics at the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna. "We were able to track down these patterns because, for a very specific group of newborns, for the first time we explored in detail how the gut microbiome, the immune system and the brain develop and how they interact in this process," he adds. The study monitored a total of 60 premature infants, born before 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1 kilogram, for several weeks or even months. 

The study is the starting point for a research project that will investigate the microbiome and its significance for the neurological development of prematurely born children even more thoroughly. In addition, the researchers will continue to follow the children of the initial study. "How the children's motoric and cognitive skills develop only becomes apparent over several years," explains Angelika Berger. "We aim to understand how this very early development of the gut-immune-brain axis plays out in the long term.

 

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Materials provided by University of Vienna. Content may be edited for style and length.

  1. David Seki, Margareta Mayer, Bela Hausmann, Petra Pjevac, Vito Giordano, Katharina Goeral, Lukas Unterasinger, Katrin Klebermaß-Schrehof, Kim De Paepe, Tom Van de Wiele, Andreas Spittler, Gregor Kasprian, Benedikt Warth, Angelika Berger, David Berry, Lukas Wisgrill. Aberrant gut-microbiota-immune-brain axis development in premature neonates with brain damage. Cell Host & Microbe, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.08.004


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