The negative effects of antibiotics, especially wide-spectrum antibiotics, on the gut microbiota are well known. However new research in mice reveals that even simple penicillin already impacts health by altering brain functioning and behaviour. In the same research, specific probiotic strains showed to counteract these changes.
Antibiotics disturb the microbiota
Antibiotics, particularly penicillins, are among the most frequently given drugs to children worldwide. However, there is increasing concern about the long-term health effects of antibiotics on children’s health. Frequent use of antibiotics in the first years of life has been associated with allergic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity as well as poorer neurocognitive outcomes later in life in which an altered gut microbial composition may play a causal role.
Effect of penicillin on mice behaviour
Several mice studies have shown that high doses of a cocktail of antibiotics induced behavioural alterations but these combinations of antibiotics are never routinely used in clinical practice. Now researchers have looked into the effects of the common antibiotic penicillin on brain functioning.
When given a low dose of penicillin to mice, the animals showed an altered blood-brain barrier and increased expression of specific immune-signalling molecules (cytokines). More importantly, however, the mice behaviour changes; they became more aggressive and behaved differently in social situations and when give difficult tasks.
Probiotics counteract disturbances
Luckily, the effect of antibiotic use on the brain could be counteracted by introducing specific bacteria. When given the experimental mice the probioticum bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus in addition with the antibiotics, the mice showed fewer of the changes in brain biology and behaviour. These experiments showed that the changes antibiotics evoke in the brain can be neutralized by specific probiotics.
Little is yet know about how microbes counteract these changes. Researchers believe that the nervous system and immune system might in some way be involved, but the exact mechanisms is still unclear.
Although these results are obtained from mouse models and the data cannot be directly extrapolated to humans, these results further contribute to treatment alternatives such as probiotics for those living with mental disorders.
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