Alterations in infant microbiota linked to childhood obesity and liver disease.

A decades-long raging epidemic, obesity has been shown to increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)in at least 30% of obese children, leading to liver failure requiring a transplant.  Childhood obesity is a prevalent worldwide disease with recent studies stating fifty-seven percent of today’s children will be obese by age 35, running parallel with the rate of maternal obesity standing at nearly forty percent.  Maternal obesity is associated with increased risk for offspring obesity and NAFLD, however, the causal drivers of this association are unclear.  Now, a study from researchers at the University of Colorado shows infant gut microbes altered by their mother’s obesity can cause inflammation and other major changes within the baby, increasing the risk of obesity and NAFLD later in life.  The team states this is the first study to show a causative role of these microbes in the development of obesity. The opensource study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Previous studies establish a growing body of evidence supporting the concept of developmental programming through maternal environment affecting fetal and infant development, thereby altering the risk profile for disease later in life.  The fact the rate of childhood obesity parallels the rise in maternal obesity strongly supports a role for early intrauterine/postnatal exposure to contribute to metabolic risk, however, a firm causal link has not been proven.  The current study provides functional evidence supporting a causative role of maternal obesity altering the infant microbiota in childhood obesity and NAFLD.

The current study follows two-week-old infants born to healthy weight mothers and obese mothers. Stool samples from infants from both groups were taken and colonized inside germ-free mice.  Results show gut microbes from babies born to obese mothers cause metabolic and inflammatory changes to the liver and bone marrow cells of the mice. Data findings show when fed a Western-style high fat diet, these mice were predisposed to more rapid weight gain and development of fattier livers.

The lab states their data shows the microbiome can cause disease with screening providing a potential diagnostic for newborns born to obese mothers to record any changes in their gut known to raise the risk for NAFLD.  They go on to add assuming the infant microbiome could be modified in the first two weeks of life, this action could possibly reduce the risk of this disease through treatments involving infant probiotics or other supplements.

The team surmises they have demonstrated certain changes in gut microbes of babies born to obese mothers are causal factors underlying increased transmission of obesity and NAFLD risk in later life.  For the future, the researchers state their findings offer potential hope for understanding how early microbes might go awry in children born to obese mothers.

Source: University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

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