Gut Bacteria Combined With Poor Diet May Promote Childhood Malnutrition

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JAMA

April 21, 2015, Vol 313, No. 15

M. J. Friedrich

A recent study reported that bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of undernourished infants from Malawi promote development of kwashiorkor, shedding light on how gut microbes interact with diet and the immune system to contribute to severe childhood malnutrition (Kau AL et al. Sci Transl Med. 2015;7[276]:1-15).

Researchers purified immune-targeted gut microbes from 2 cohorts of human identical twins in which one twin was healthy and the other had kwashiorkor, isolating several types of pathogenic bacteria from gut microbiota of malnurished children.

Investigators also transplanted fecal microbiota samples from healthy and malnourished twins into germ-free mice who were fed either a standard nutritionally sufficient mouse chow diet or a low-nutrient diet typical in Malawi.

Mice fed a low-nutrient “Malawian” diet that received microbiota from a malnourished twin had a high number of immune-targeted gut bacteria from the Enterobacteriaceae family. These mice also lost more weight than animals fed the same diet but who were colonized with microbiota from the healthy co-twins. Mice fed standard nutrient-balanced mouse chow lost less weight and were healthier, regardless of the microbiota they received. Two strains of gut bacteria from the healthy twin ameliorated undernutrition and lethality in mice colonized by microbiota from the malnourished twin.

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