Low-dose penicillin in early life induces long-term changes in murine gut microbiota, brain cytokines and behavior

There is concern about potential long-term effects of antibiotics on children’s health. Here Leclercq et al (published today in Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS15062) show, in mice, that low doses of penicillin during late pregnancy and early life induce lasting effects on the offspring, including alterations in gut microbiota, brain cytokine levels and behaviour.

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Antibiotic usage worldwide is going out of control and has certainly led to the potential scourge of antibiotic resistance. Less certainly but increasingly likely it has been accused of being involved in longterm effects such as some of humankind’s chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions etc. We present evidence in mice that early life (late pregnancy to weaning) treatment with low-doses (clinical) of penicillin V have pronounced effects on the behavior of the offspring which may be attenuated by concomitant treatment with a Lactobacillus.

The experiments raise interesting questions: does the use of antibiotics in early life of rodents have any relevance to the clinical situation? Does the timing (eg late pregnancy and/or through to weaning) make any difference? Is it possible that the penicillin itself at a time of vulnerability of brain development has direct negative effects? Or are the detrimental effects the result of complex changes in the gut microbiota? Might it be possible to attenuate the negative longterm effects of antibiotics by the use of bacterial cocktails or even diet?

The paper in Nature Communications is here: http://go.nature.com/2oENUOr

John Bienenstock

Professor, Brain-Body Institute, McMaster University