Maternal Influence on Gut-Brain Axis Development in Infancy

The primary purpose of this project is to investigate how mothers influence development of their infant's gut-brain axis (GBA) via quality of maternal care, nutrition (breastmilk vs. formula), genetics, and the milk microbiome. We are combining state-of-the-art imaging data already being collected as part of an ongoing project with measures of maternal care, bioactive factors in breastmilk and formula, genetic information, and infant microbiota composition to gain a better understanding of when and how mothers influence the development of the GBA.

It has been well established that the mother plays a formative role in the development of the offspring gut microbiome beginning prenatally and continuing through birth and nursing her infant. Recently, the gut microbiome has been shown to play a role in neurobehavioral development in animal models. Further, alterations in the gut microbiome have been related to several neurodevelopmental disorders and psychopathologies, including autism, depression and anxiety. Thus, given the important role of the maternal environment in the development of the gut microbiome, the intense neurodevelopmental changes that co-occur with development of the gut microbiome in infancy, and the links between the gut microbiome and neurobehavioral development and disorders, the current project aims to explore maternal influence on the GBA.

The results of this study will provide important information on a novel role of the mother in neurodevelopment via influencing the gut microbiome and subsequent neurobehavioral development. This could potentially provide a new target for innovative preventative treatments and interventions such as maternal or infant probiotic supplements.