Postnatal colonization with human "infant-type" Bifidobacterium species alters behavior of adult gnotobiotic mice

Berkley Luk, Surabi Veeraragavan, Melinda Engevik, Miriam Balderas, Angela Major, Jessica Runge, Ruth Ann Luna, James Versalovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Accumulating studies have defined a role for the intestinal microbiota in modulation of host behavior. Research using gnotobiotic mice emphasizes that early microbial colonization with a complex microbiota (conventionalization) can rescue some of the behavioral abnormalities observed in mice that grow to adulthood completely devoid of bacteria (germ-free mice). However, the human infant and adult microbiomes vary greatly, and effects of the neonatal microbiome on neurodevelopment are currently not well understood. Microbe-mediated modulation of neural circuit patterning in the brain during neurodevelopment may have significant long-term implications that we are only beginning to appreciate. Modulation of the host central nervous system by the early-life microbiota is predicted to have pervasive and lasting effects on brain function and behavior. We sought to replicate this early microbe-host interaction by colonizing gnotobiotic mice at the neonatal stage with a simplified model of the human infant gut microbiota. This model consortium consisted of four “infant-type” Bifidobacterium species known to be commensal members of the human infant microbiota present in high abundance during postnatal development. Germ-free mice and mice neonatally-colonized with a complex, conventional murine microbiota were used for comparison. Motor and non-motor behaviors of the mice were tested at 6–7 weeks of age, and colonization patterns were characterized by 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Adult germ-free mice were observed to have abnormal memory, sociability, anxiety-like behaviors, and motor performance. Con-ventionalization at the neonatal stage rescued these behavioral abnormalities, and mice colonized with Bifidobacterium spp. also exhibited important behavioral differences relative to the germ-free controls. The ability of Bifidobacterium spp. to improve the recognition memory of both male and female germ-free mice was a prominent finding. Together, these data demonstrate that the early-life gut microbiome, and human “infant-type” Bifidobacterium species, affect adult behavior in a strongly sex-dependent manner, and can selectively recapitulate the results observed when mice are colonized with a complex microbiota.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0196510
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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