Objectives: The human intestinal microbiota composition alters naturally with age, but is unusually perturbed by antibiotic therapy. The impact of antibiotic therapy on the composition of the intestinal microbiota of a cross-section of elderly Irish subjects (n = 185, ≥ 65 years) was investigated, taking into consideration their residence location.
Methods: Forty-two of the 185 elderly subjects were treated with at least one antibiotic within 1 month prior to faecal microbiota profiling. The residence locations of the subjects varied from long-term nursing care and rehabilitation wards to day hospitals and the community.
Results: Culture-dependent methods indicated that faecal Bifidobacterium spp. numbers were significantly reduced following antibiotic treatment (P = 0.004, 7-fold reduction), while levels of Lactobacillus spp. and Enterobacteriaceae were unaffected. The largest decrease in Bifidobacterium spp. numbers was linked to the administration of nucleic acid synthesis inhibitors (P = 0.004, 23-fold reduction). Microbiota profiling revealed a significant compositional change across nine genera following antibiotic therapy, including a relative increase in Lactobacillus spp. (P = 0.031), as well as a decrease in the number of genera identified in the antibiotic-treated subjects (n = 58), when compared with untreated subjects (n = 79). More alterations in the intestinal microbiota were observed post-nucleic acid synthesis inhibitor therapy, most notably a decrease in relative Faecalibacterium spp. numbers (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: The impact of antibiotic therapy on the intestinal microbiota in the elderly should be considered for long-term health effects, and differential susceptibility may require the development of products (e.g. prebiotics and probiotics) for at-risk subjects.