Alterations in infant microbiota linked to childhood obesity and liver disease.
It is known that obesity increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which impacts at least 30% of obese children, and can lead to liver failure, requiring a transplant. Childhood obesity is a world-wide epidemic with recent studies stating that 57% of today’s children will be obese by age 35, running parallel with the rate of maternal obesity which is at nearly 40%. 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 that 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 state that this is the first study to show a causative role of these microbes in priming development of obesity. The opensource study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
Previous studies show a growing body of evidence supporting the concept of developmental programming through which the maternal environment affects fetal and infant development, thereby altering the risk profile for disease later in life. The fact that 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 mother and obese mothers. Stool samples from infants from both groups were taken and colonized inside germ-free mice. Results show that the 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 that when fed a Western-style high fat diet, these mice were predisposed to more rapid weight gain and development of fattier livers.
The lab state their data shows that the microbiome can cause the disease rather than simply be associated with it, and that newborns of obese mothers could be screened for potential changes in their gut that put them at risk for NAFLD. They go on to add that if the first two weeks of the infant microbiome could be modified, it could reduce the risk of this disease, which could be done through giving the infant probiotics or other supplements.
The team surmise they have demonstrated that 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.