A newly released collection of papers, the result of the Gut in Focus Symposium Nobel Forum held earlier this year, is adding to the mounting evidence of the influential role the gut microbiome plays in health. The papers, authored by leading physicians and scientists in gut microbiota research from the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the National Institutes of Health (US) and University of Western Ontario (Canada), among others, have been published in a special supplement of the peer reviewed journal, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease.
Chairing the symposium: Karolinska Institutet's Tore Midtvedt, a pioneer in microbiota research and faecal microbiota transplantation therapy, and the initiator of the annual forum that was first held in 2012.
"This year, the symposium, and consequently the papers presented in this supplement, focus on three thematic areas," said Midtvedt, "the establishing of intestinal microbiota in infants; specific compounds, produced by bacteria in the intestines, that can affect brain function and behavior; and restoration of intestinal microbiota, with a focus on faeces transplantation."
Two very different environments, and sets of circumstances, are explored in the two papers focusing on the establishment of the intestinal microbiota. The first, by Dennis Lang of the National Institutes of Health, centers on the challenges to developing a healthy gut microbiota faced by infants in developing countries and looks at factors - including suboptimal breastfeeding and weaning diets, early infections caused by enteric pathogens and frequent and early antibiotic use have long term consequences — that should be considered when developing intervention strategies.
The second article, Factors affecting infant gut microbiota and possible consequences for health, by a team of researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health,reports on previous findings from a Norwegian cohort study established to examine the colonization of infant gut microbiota and subsequent health, and references the role cesarean delivery, use of antibiotics and maternal diet play in disrupting the establishment of a healthy gut microbiota, influencing long-term health outcomes in children.
The third piece in the supplement addresses over-use of antibiotics and the need to develop alternatives. Immune modulation by non-digestible and non-absorbable beta-1,3/1,6-glucan looks at how beta glucans, compounds produced by many fungi, may potentially be used as an immune system stimulus in both animals and humans, thereby curbing antibiotic use in individuals - and on farms.
Autism and a link to an excess of compounds called short chain fatty acids, which physician and researcher Derrick MacFabe explains as being produced when our gut bacteria ferment carbohydrates obtained from our diet, is the topic of a paper authored by MacFabe of Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group, Western University, Canada. His research, as reported on in the supplement, shows that these fatty acids broadly affect brain function and behavior, and can even turn on and off autism related genes.
The final two papers in the supplement discuss faecal microbiota transplantation as a very effective treatment for individuals who have failed to respond to repeated antibiotic treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection (RCDI), which causes intestinal disorder in the host, and potentially other gastrointestinal conditions. The first shares learnings from the U.S., while the final one reports on studies in Sweden.
All papers in the special issue are available free online at Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease (http://www.microbecolhealthdis.net/index.php/mehd/article/view/28480).