The mother’s microbiota can influence fetal development – Futura

During pregnancy, the expectant mother transfers not only nutrients, but also microbes to her baby. Finnish researchers found that maternal microbiota influences gene expression of the fetal placenta, brain and intestines in mice.

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A new Finnish study published in BMC Biology suggests that maternal microorganisms are important for offspring development and health. Depending on the microbes present in the mother’s body, significant differences in gene activity have been found in the fetal placenta, brain and intestines.

The research also uncovered new metabolites thought to be influenced by the maternal microbiota. “We have identified previously unknown compounds in the fetus that are likely microbial and could be important for individual development,” said study researcher Mikael Niku from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki. According to the authors, many potentially important metabolites remain to be identified.

Male fetuses are more severely affected

The researchers compared fetuses from normal mice with those from germ-free (and therefore microbiota-free) mice living in a sterile environment. They measured gene expression and metabolite concentrations in the fetus in the gut, brain and placenta. For example, genes in the gut that are linked to the immune system were less active in fetuses from germ-free mothers. Differences in the expression of brain genes associated with nervous system development and function have been observed.

In the placenta, genes encoding prolactin and other important pregnancy regulators were downregulated in germ-free mothers. Additionally, male fetuses showed greater differences, suggesting they may be more sensitive to the effects of the maternal microbiota, at least in mice.

In particular, this research could help understand why some babies are predisposed to immune system disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and allergies.