New Publication in Cell Host & Microbe: Aberrant gut microbiota-immune-brain axis development in premature neonates with brain damage


Extremely premature infants are at a high risk for brain damage. A collaboration between CMESS researchers, including DOME members David Seki and David Berry, and the Medical University of Vienna have now found possible targets for the early treatment of such damage outside the brain: Bacteria in the gut of premature infants may play a key role. The research team found that the overgrowth of the gastrointestinal tract with the bacterium Klebsiella is associated with an increased presence of certain immune cells and the development of neurological damage in premature babies.

Monitoring 60 premature infants, born before 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1 kilogram, the research team investigated the role the gut-immune-brain axis plays in the brain development of extreme preterm infants. “In fact, we have been able to identify certain patterns in the microbiome and immune response that are clearly linked to the progression and severity of brain injury,” says the first author of the study, David Seki. “Crucially, 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,” adds David Berry, head of the research group at CMESS as well as Operational Director of the Joint Microbiome Facility (JMF) of the Medical University of Vienna and University of Vienna. The study revealed biomarkers that might serve as a starting points for the development of appropriate therapies: Apparently, the excessive growth of the bacterium Klebsiella and the associated elevated γδ-T-cell levels can exacerbate brain damage. The study, which is an inter-university clusterproject under the joint leadership by Angelika Berger (Medical University of Vienna) and David Berry (University of Vienna), is the starting point for a research project that will investigate the microbiome and its significance for the neurological development of prematurely born children even more thoroughly. In addition, the researchers will continue to follow the children of the initial study.