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Normal development of the gut microbiota in infants may protect against asthma at a later age

The bacteria in the infant intestinal microbiota and the short chain fatty acids they produce  may affect the child’s risk of developing asthma at a later age. This is revealed by a recently published study where also researchers from The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the University of Eastern Finland were centrally involved in.

The researchers found that especially vaginal delivery and breastfeeding supported the development of asthma protection associated gut microbiota at the age of two months. In contrast, birth by Caesarean section and mother's smoking during the pregnancy disturbed the development of the protective features.

At the age of one year, the subsequent risk of asthma was reduced by the maturity of the gut microbiota linked with high abundance of bacteria producing certain short-chain fatty acids. According to earlier experimental studies, the short-chain fatty acids produced by gut bacteria may support  mechanisms regulating inflammation in the lungs, which could explain the link between the microbes producing them and the lower risk of asthma.

Particularly growing up on a farm, diversification of the diet and termination of breastfeeding supported the development of asthma protection associated microbial composition in one-year-olds.

“The protective effect of growing up on a farm has been known for a long time and our previous studies have indicated that this protective effect is linked to the child’s exposure to certain kinds of microbes. This study showed that a small part of the protective effect of farms may be explained by factors that promote the maturation of the gut microbiota,” says Docent, Senior Researcher Pirkka Kirjavainen.

The composition of the gut microbiotachanges dramatically during the first year of life, which may also influence the child’s immunological development.

“Our results support the idea that changes in the gut microbiota are linked with the mechanisms affecting the risk of asthma. It may be possible to support the compositional development of the infant gut microbiotato prevent asthma, perhaps as simply as first by breastfeeding and later by diversifying the diet in the rightway ,“ Kirjavainen says.

The article Maturation of the gut microbiome during the first year of life contributes to the protective farm effect on childhood asthma written by the international research group was published in the distinguished science publication Nature Medicine on 2 November. The composition of the gut microbiome of 600 European children was examined for the study.

Source: THL

Research article:

Depner M, Hazard Taft D, Kirjavainen PV, Kalanetra KM, Karvonen AM, PhD, Peschel S, Schmausser-Hechfellner E, Roduit C, MD, Frei R, Lauener R, Divaret-Chauveau A, Dalphin J-C, Riedler J, Roponen M, Kabesch M, Renz H, Pekkanen J, Farquharson Louis P, Mills D, von Mutius E, MD, Ege MJ; PASTURE study group. Maturation of the gut microbiome during the first year of life contributes to the protective farm effect on childhood asthma. Nature Medicine. 2020 DOI: 10.1038/s41591-020-1095-x.


Pirkka Kirjavainen, Senior Researcher, Docent

THL, University of Eastern Finland

tel. +358 29 246849,