The study, published in Cell Reports Medicine, suggests that the development of a healthy immune system and microbiota can actually begin long before a child is born, and signals that the tiny molecules to which an infant is exposed in the womb play a fundamental role in future Health.
“Our analysis found that newborns who developed allergic sensitization at one year of age had significantly less ‘rich’ meconium at birth than newborns who did not develop allergic sensitization,” says lead co-author of the study, Dr. Brett Finlay. Professor at Michael Smith Laboratories and Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Meconium, which is typically excreted on the first day of life, is made up of a variety of materials that are absorbed and excreted during development, including skin cells, amniotic fluid, and various molecules known as metabolites.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Charisse Petersen, a research fellow in the UBC’s Department of Pediatrics, explains, “Meconium is like a time capsule and shows what the child was exposed to before birth. It contains all kinds of molecules that were encountered and accumulated in the mother’s womb and it then becomes the first source of nourishment for the earliest gut microbes. “
For their study, the researchers analyzed meconium samples from 100 infants who participated in the CHILD Cohort Study (CHILD), a leading global birth cohort study in health research for mothers, newborns and children.
A total of 714 metabolites were detected in the samples over a wide range of metabolic pathways, including predominantly lipids, followed by amino acids, xenobiotics as well as vitamins and cofactors.
They discovered that the fewer different types of molecules a baby’s meconium contains, the higher the child’s risk of developing allergies. They also found that a decrease in certain molecules was linked to changes in key bacterial groups. These groups of bacteria play a crucial role in the development and maturation of the microbiota – a powerful actor in health and disease.
“This work shows that the development of a healthy immune system and microbiota can actually begin long before a child is born – and signals that the tiny molecules to which an infant is exposed in the womb play a fundamental role in future health,” he says Dr. Petersen.
Using a machine learning algorithm, the researchers combined meconium, microbial and clinical data to predict with a high degree of accuracy (76 percent) and more reliably than ever whether an infant would develop allergies by the age of one or not.
The study results have important implications for infants at risk, the researchers say.
“We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of developing asthma too. Now we have the ability to identify vulnerable infants who could benefit from early intervention before they show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life.” Says the study’s senior co-author, Dr. Stuart Turvey, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UBC, investigator at BC Children’s Hospital and co-director of the CHILD Cohort Study.
Source: Cell Reports Medicine
Petersen, C. et al
“An abundant meconium metabolome in infants is associated with premature gut microbiota composition and decreased allergic sensitization.”