Alterations in the Vaginal Microbiome by Maternal Stress Are Associated With Metabolic Reprogramming of the Offspring Gut and Brain

Endocrinology. 2015 Sep;156(9):3265-76. doi: 10.1210/en.2015-1177. Epub 2015 Jun 16.


The neonate is exposed to the maternal vaginal microbiota during parturition, providing the primary source for normal gut colonization, host immune maturation, and metabolism. These early interactions between the host and microbiota occur during a critical window of neurodevelopment, suggesting early life as an important period of cross talk between the developing gut and brain. Because perturbations in the prenatal environment such as maternal stress increase neurodevelopmental disease risk, disruptions to the vaginal ecosystem could be a contributing factor in significant and long-term consequences for the offspring. Therefore, to examine the hypothesis that changes in the vaginal microbiome are associated with effects on the offspring gut microbiota and on the developing brain, we used genomic, proteomic and metabolomic technologies to examine outcomes in our mouse model of early prenatal stress. Multivariate modeling identified broad proteomic changes to the maternal vaginal environment that influence offspring microbiota composition and metabolic processes essential for normal neurodevelopment. Maternal stress altered proteins related to vaginal immunity and abundance of Lactobacillus, the prominent taxa in the maternal vagina. Loss of maternal vaginal Lactobacillus resulted in decreased transmission of this bacterium to offspring. Further, altered microbiota composition in the neonate gut corresponded with changes in metabolite profiles involved in energy balance, and with region- and sex-specific disruptions of amino acid profiles in the developing brain. Taken together, these results identify the vaginal microbiota as a novel factor by which maternal stress may contribute to reprogramming of the developing brain that may predispose individuals to neurodevelopmental disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Colon / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, 129 Strain
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microbiota
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / psychology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / microbiology*
  • Vagina / microbiology*


  • Amino Acids