Antibiotics in Early Life Slows Digestive Nerve Function, Alters Microbiome

The postweaning period is associated with significant and concurrent maturation of the [eneric nervous system] and microbiota, but the impact of antibiotic exposure on the gut during this time remains unclear. We found that vancomycin exposure during the postweaning period significantly affected both alpha- and beta-diversity of the microbiota as well as community composition.

The period during and immediately after weaning is an important developmental window when marked shifts in gut microbiota can regulate the maturation of the enteric nervous system (ENS). Because microbiota-derived signals that modulate ENS development are poorly understood, we examined the physiological impact of the broad spectrum of antibiotic, vancomycin-administered postweaning on colonic motility, neurochemistry of enteric neurons, and neuronal excitability. The functional impact of vancomycin on enteric neurons was investigated by Ca2+ imaging in Wnt1-Cre;R26R-GCaMP3 reporter mice to characterize alterations in the submucosal and the myenteric plexus, which contains the neuronal circuitry controlling gut motility. 16S rDNA sequencing of fecal specimens after oral vancomycin demonstrated significant deviations in microbiota abundance, diversity, and community composition. Vancomycin significantly increased the relative family rank abundance of Akkermansiaceae, Lactobacillaceae, and Enterobacteriaceae at the expense of Lachnospiraceae and Bacteroidaceae. In sharp contrast to neonatal vancomycin exposure, microbiota compositional shifts in weaned animals were associated with slower colonic migrating motor complexes (CMMCs) without mucosal serotonin biosynthesis being altered.

The slowing of CMMCs is linked to disruptions in the neurochemistry of the underlying enteric circuitry. This included significant reductions in cholinergic and calbindin+ myenteric neurons, neuronal nitric oxide synthase+ submucosal neurons, neurofilament M+ enteric neurons, and increased proportions of cholinergic submucosal neurons. The antibiotic treatment also increased transmission and responsiveness in myenteric and submucosal neurons that may enhance inhibitory motor pathways, leading to slower CMMCs. Differential vancomycin responses during neonatal and weaning periods in mice highlight the developmental-specific impact of antibiotics on colonic enteric circuitry and motility.

This study is highlighted as one of July’s “best of the best” as part of the American Physiological Society’s APSselect program.

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