Prenatal Stress Alters Bacterial Colonization of the Gut in Infant Monkeys

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Objective:The hypothesis that prenatal stress lowers the levels of protective microflora and increases the risk for postpartum Gram-negative pathogens was tested in infant monkeys.Methods:Female monkeys were left undisturbed or were stressed during pregnancy using an acoustical startle paradigm for 6 weeks either early or late in their 24-week gestation. Several types of intestinal microflora were repeatedly enumerated by fecal culture while infants were reared normally by their mothers.Results:Significant changes in microflora concentrations occurred during the first 6 months of life. The profile of total aerobes and facultative anaerobes was biphasic, with peak concentrations occurring between 2 and 16 weeks of age. The numbers of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli were low at 2 days after birth but rapidly increased to a peak between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Although similar temporal patterns were evident in all infants, prenatal stress reduced the overall numbers of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.Conclusions:Moderate disturbance during pregnancy was sufficient to alter the intestinal microflora in the newborn infant. These alterations could result in enhanced susceptibility to infection and suggest a mechanism for some effects of maternal pregnancy conditions on infant health.

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