Study Shows That Exposure to Antibiotics in Early Life Could Affect Brain Development

Researchers from Rutgers University found that overexposure to antibiotics in early life could impact the development of the brain in areas dealing with emotional and cognitive functioning. This finding could not have come at a better time as children in the U.S are given about three different antibiotics before they are two years old.

Penicillin could affect brain development

The researchers explain that penicillin, in particular, can change the gut microbiome and some elements of gene expression in important areas of the developing brain. Penicillin, along with amoxicillin and ampicillin, are drugs that physicians commonly prescribe to children. As a result, the authors think that antibiotic use should be minimised to avoid issues in brain development.

According to Martin Blaser, lead author and the director of the Centre for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at the university, their past research has shown that giving young animals antibiotics can change their metabolism and immunity. Although this new study is introductory, it still shows a correlation between antibiotics and neurodevelopment.

Disruption of the gut-brain axis could cause neurodegenerative diseases

To come to this conclusion, researchers used two mice groups. They exposed the first group of mice to low doses of penicillin while they were in the womb. The other group, which served as a control group, was not given the drug.

The group of mice that was exposed to penicillin showed changes in their gut microbiome. There were also signs of altered gene expression in the amygdala and frontal cortex. These areas of the brain play a role in memory development, fear and stress responses.

The researchers believe that this theory lends credibility to the gut-brain axis theory, which shows that changes in the gut can lead to changes in brain signalling. If the gut-brain axis is disrupted, it could cause permanent functional and structural alterations to the brain. Some scientists speculate that such changes could eventually lead to neurodegenerative or neuropsychiatric disorders.

Blaser points out that there has been an increase in neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders among children. This increase might be a result of increased awareness of these diseases. However, we should not rule out alterations in gene expression.

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