Can the use of widely prescribed antibiotics make kids more prone to developing asthma? A provocative new study of mice suggests the answer may be yes.
University of British Columbia researchers, writing in the journal EMBO Reports, said experiments involving laboratory mice have found certain antibiotics affect intestinal bacteria – some of which may be key to immune system functions – increasing the rate and severity of allergic asthma in early life.
"It has long been suspected that kids exposed to more antibiotics – like those in developed countries – are more prone to allergic asthma," said the study's lead researcher Brett Finlay. "Our study is the first experimental proof that shows how."
Finlay's team at UBC's Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology and Michael Smith Laboratories examined how the antibiotics streptomycin and vancomycin affected the bacteria in the gut of mice.
They found that vancomycin alters the bacteria and increases severity of asthma in mice early in life, but the antibiotics do not impact adult mice's susceptibility to asthma. Finlay said this suggests early life is a critical period of establishing a healthy immune system.
Allergic asthma affects more than 100 million people worldwide and is increasing.
"Modern societal practices, such as improved sanitation methods and widespread antibiotic use, are causing the disappearance of ancestral species of bacteria in our gut that may be critical to a healthy immune system," said Finlay.