According to a recent study from the University of East Anglia, the Quadram Institute, and the University of Cambridge, a mother’s gut microbes can aid in the formation of the placenta and the healthy development of the baby.
Researchers looking at mice discovered that a kind of gut bacteria that are known to improve health in mice and humans also alters the mother’s body during pregnancy and has an influence on the placenta’s structure and nutrition transfer, which has an effect on the developing kid.
This study may help identify strategies for preventing pregnancy difficulties and ensuring a good start for all children because Bifidobacterium breve is a probiotic that is often utilized.
The gut microbes, or the collection of microbes that live there, are well-recognized to be important for sustaining health since it helps fight infections and has an impact on the immune system and metabolism of the host.
By metabolizing the food in the human diet and producing active metabolites that have an impact on cells and bodily functions, they provide these beneficial benefits.
Very little is currently known about how these interactions affect fetal development and the health of the unborn child, despite the fact that researchers are beginning to dissect these metabolite-mediated interactions between microbes and the body from birth to how they affect aging.
The mother supplies the growing fetus with nutrients and metabolites; however, it is unknown how much the maternal microbiome affects the metabolites that the mother provides to the fetus and how this affects pregnancy.
The researchers examined the effects of Bifidobacterium breve supplementation on mice pregnancy to address this.
Prof. Lindsay Hall, from the Norwich Medical School and Quadram Institute at the University of East Anglia, has previously demonstrated how giving certain probiotics to preterm newborns might benefit them by examining Bifidobacterium and the microbiome in very early life.
In the microbiomes of pregnant humans and mice, these bacteria multiply, and changes in their concentrations have been associated with pregnancy problems.
Our findings reveal that the maternal microbiome promotes development of the placenta and growth of the fetus. We think that this is linked to the altered profile of metabolites and nutrients, which affects nutrient transport from mother to baby across the placenta. Excitingly it appears that adding in a probiotic Bifidobacterium during pregnancy may help to boost how the placenta functions, which has positive effects on the baby’s growth in utero.”
Lindsay Hall, Professor, Norwich Medical School and Quadram Institute, University of East Anglia
Dr Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, from the University of Cambridge, added, “Pregnancy disorders affect around one in ten pregnant women. This is worrying as pregnancy complications can lead to health problems for the mother and her baby even after the pregnancy.”
Dr Sferruzzi-Perri also stated, “This study carried out in mice, identifies a new player in the communication between mother, placenta and fetus, which is the maternal microbiome. Finding out how this form of communication works and how to improve it may help many women who develop pregnancy complications, as well as their developing child.”
Breeding “germ-free” mice, free of any microbes, enables comparisons with mice with “normal” microbes. These comparisons shed important light on the function of the microbiome in health, whereas human subjects are ineligible for such investigations.
The Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council provided funding for this study, which also examined the impact of giving probiotic Bifidobacterium breve to germ-free mice.
Their research, which was published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, demonstrates that Bifidobacterium breve in particular, as well as the maternal gut microbiome as a whole, play a role in controlling fetal development and metabolism.
The fetus in the germ-free mice did not get enough sugar, which prevented it from growing and developing normally. Excitingly, administering Bifidobacterium breve to germ-free mice enhanced fetal outcomes by resuming normal fetal metabolism, growth, and development.
A more thorough investigation revealed a number of crucial cell development and metabolic variables that seem to be regulated by the microbiome and Bifidobacterium breve. The absence of the maternal microbiome also inhibited placenta growth in a way that would impair fetal growth.
The placenta has been a neglected organ despite it being vital for the growth and survival of the fetus. A better understanding of how the placenta grows, and functions will ultimately result in healthier pregnancies for mothers and babies.”
Dr Lopez-Tello, Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience, Centre for Trophoblast Research, University of Cambridge
The microbiome had an impact on important nutrient transporters, including those for sugars in the placenta, which would also affect the development of the fetus, the researchers discovered.
These results provide compelling evidence that the mother’s microbiome and the development of the fetus are related; however, there are limitations to this pioneering work.
While it was shown that Bifidobacterium breve had beneficial effects on germ-free mice during pregnancy in this study, which focused on a single bacterial species, this is not a circumstance that would naturally occur. Future research is required to verify these benefits in a more complex and natural microbiome.
Since the study was done on mice, it cannot be directly applied to human treatment. To determine if the human maternal microbiome has similar benefits, future investigations in humans will need to be guided by the knowledge gained from this proof-of-concept animal study.
If that is the case, it might undoubtedly offer a reasonably easy and affordable option to assist in improving pregnancy outcomes with significant benefits for the mother’s and her child’s long-term health.
Lopez-Tello, J., et al. (2022) Maternal gut microbiota Bifidobacterium promotes placental morphogenesis, nutrient transport and fetal growth in mice. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. doi.org/10.1007/s00018-022-04379-y.