The microbiota as an indicator for the risk of asthma?
Immaturity of the intestinal microbiota at the age of one is thought to increase the risk of developing asthma by the age of five in children who are so predisposed because their mothers are asthmatic. Helping the intestinal flora of these children to mature could protect them, according to the results of a large Danish study.
The composition of the intestinal microbiota varies throughout life, under the influence of various environmental factors. The first year of a child’s life is a particularly decisive period in this process of microbiota maturation, and its disruption could be the cause of asthma. Could an analysis of an infant’s microbiota predict the risk of developing the disease?
One year of microbial revolution
To answer this question, researchers analyzed the data obtained from a study conducted in 690 children. They observed that the most significant changes in the intestinal flora occur between the first and the twelfth month of the baby’s life, even before the onset of the first symptoms of asthma: the intestinal microbiota diversifies and the dominant bacterial group changes. This change is independent of the fact of having an asthmatic mother and is associated with the presence of certain bacteria and that of older children in the family, who are thought to stimulate the newborn’s immune system, speeding up the maturation of their microbiota.
The authors did not however observe a link between immaturity of the microbiota and a subsequent risk of asthma in all children: this was only seen in those with asthmatic mothers. From this, the researchers deduced that a predisposition to develop asthma and exposure to an environment that hindered “adequate” maturation of the microbiota during the first year of life are triggering factors. In continuing their analysis, the authors also identified the eight bacterial genera which are predictive of the development of asthma at a later date.
Prospects for application
These results open new prospects for the early detection of asthma, based on the study of the microbiota of newborns. The authors also concluded that these results revive interest in the use of probiotic supplements during pregnancy or in the first months of life, to speed up the maturation of the microbiota and prevent the development of asthma in children at risk.
Jakob Stokholm et al. Maturation of the gut microbiome and risk of asthma in childhood. Nature communications (2018)9:141 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02573-2