Babies that are born extremely premature are at severe risk for brain damage. Researchers now believe that gut bacteria may play a key role in this process. In a new study published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe, they show that overgrowth of bacterium Klebsiella is associated with an increased presence of a particular kind of immune cells and the development of neurological damage in premature babies.

Here at Herculean Strength, we’ve reported on a number of studies that show just why researchers are calling the gut ‘the second brain’. The health of your gut is integral to your physical and mental well-being and development. For example, one recent study has shown that consumption of refined sugar is dreadful for childhood brain development, because of the way it changes the gut microbiome. Blood pressure also appears to be modulated by the composition of bacteria in the gut, as another study recently showed.

Gut Bacteria and the Brain

Gut bacteria
There is a close interrelation between the gut, brain and immune system

There is a close interrelationship between the early development of the gut, the brain and the immune system. Gut Bacteria cooperate with the immune system, which monitors gut microbes and develops appropriate responses to them. The gut is also in contact with the brain via the vagus nerve as well as via the immune system.

“We investigated the role this axis plays in the brain development of extreme preterm infants,” says the first author of the new study, David Seki.

“The microorganisms of the gut microbiome — which is a vital collection of hundreds of species of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes — are in equilibrium in healthy people. However, especially in premature babies, whose immune system and microbiome have not been able to develop fully, shifts are quite likely to occur. These shifts may result in negative effects on the brain.”

The researchers monitored 60 premature infants, born before 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1 kilogram, for a period of several weeks or even months. Using the latest methods, which included using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, among other methods, the researchers took and analysed blood and stool samples, as well as brain-wave recordings and MRI images of the infants’ brains.

The researchers have been able to identify certain patterns in the gut bacteriaand immune response “that are clearly linked to the progression and severity of brain injury.”

Crucially, it appears that “such patterns often show up prior to changes in the brain. This suggests a critical time window during which brain damage of extremely premature infants may be prevented from worsening or even avoided.”

The biomarkers the researchers were able to identify will provide starting points for the development of appropriate therapies.

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Gut bacteria really make a difference

The study is an inter-university project, and will serve as the starting point for a research project that will investigate the gut bacteria and their significance for the neurological development of prematurely born children even more thoroughly.

In addition, the researchers aim to conduct follow-up studies with the children from the initial study.

“How the children’s motoric and cognitive skills develop only becomes apparent over several years,” explains Angelika Berger, another one of the principal researchers. “We aim to understand how this very early development of the gut-immune-brain axis plays out in the long term. ”

As we’ve already mentioned, other studies have shown the role of the gut bacteria in proper brain development in adolescents. A rat study showed that the presence of Parabacteroides in their guts as a result of excessive sugar consumption could lead to serious cognitive impairment.

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