By investigating the microbiome of very preterm newborns, scientists discovered new biomarkers for brain development.
The gut microbiome is made up of thousands of different bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microorganisms. The community is reasonably constant in healthy people.
However, a growing body of evidence indicates that alterations to the microbiome can have an impact on human health, impairing the immune system, hormone pathways, cognitive functioning, and more.
Some scientists even refer to the gut system and its microbes as the body’s “second brain.”
To better understand the interplay between the body’s gut, immune system and brain, researchers analyzed the microbial communities of several extreme preterm infants.
Specifically, scientists looked at how changes in the gut microbiome of preterm infants influences brain development via the vagus nerve.
Their analysis — published Friday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe — revealed a link between brain injuries in preterm infants and unique patterns in their microbiomes and immune systems.
In fact, the patterns predicted the progression and severity of each brain injury.
“Crucially, such patterns often show up prior to changes in the brain,” study co-author David Berry said in a press release.
“This suggests a critical time window during which brain damage of extremely premature infants may be prevented from worsening or even avoided,” said Berry, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna in Austria.
Berry and his colleagues were successful in identifying biomarkers for early brain development. These biomarkers can be used by doctors to identify when to administer various medicines.
The biomarkers were discovered after scientists sequenced the DNA from gut microbiota samples gathered from 60 premature infants, all of whom were born before 28 weeks gestation and weighed less than 2.2 pounds.
EEG recordings and MRI images of the infants’ brains were also investigated by the researchers.
Despite the fact that researchers have already identified a number of novel correlations between the gut microbiota and brain development, the study’s authors intend to continue investigating links between the gut microbiome and brain development as the preterm infants grow.
The latest paper, they said, is only a starting point.
“How the children’s motor and cognitive skills develop only becomes apparent over several years,” co-author Angelika Berger said in a press release.
“We aim to understand how this very early development of the gut-immune-brain axis plays out in the long term,” said Berger, a pediatric researcher at the Medical University of Vienna.