Topic: Bacteria are connected to how babies experience fear
New research from MSU shows that an infant’s gut microbiome could contain clues to help monitor and support healthy neurological development
Why do some babies react to perceived danger more than others? According to new research from Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, part of the answer may be found in a surprising place: an infant’s digestive system.
The human digestive system is home to a vast community of microorganisms known as the gut microbiome. The MSU-UNC research team discovered that the gut microbiome was different in infants with strong fear responses and infants with milder reactions.
These fear responses — how someone reacts to a scary situation — in early life can be indicators of future mental health. And there is growing evidence tying neurological well-being to the microbiome in the gut.
The new findings suggest that the gut microbiome could one day provide researchers and physicians with a new tool to monitor and support healthy neurological development.
“This early developmental period is a time of tremendous opportunity for promoting healthy brain development,” said MSU’s Rebecca Knickmeyer, leader of the new study published June 2 in the journal Nature Communications. “The microbiome is an exciting new target that can be potentially used for that.”
Studies of this connection and its role in fear response in animals led Knickmeyer, an associate professor in the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, and her team to look for something similar in humans. And studying how humans, especially young children, handle fear is important because it can help forecast mental health in some cases.
“Fear reactions are a normal part of child development. Children should be aware of threats in their environment and be ready to respond to them” said Knickmeyer, who also works in MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, or IQ. “But if they can’t dampen that response when they’re safe, they may be at heightened risk to develop anxiety and depression later on in life.”
Topic Discussed: Bacteria are connected to how babies experience fear
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