Background: The gut microbiome influences myriad host functions, including nutrient acquisition, immune modulation, brain development, and behavior. Although human gut microbiota are recognized to change as we age, information regarding the structure and function of the gut microbiome during childhood is limited. Using 16S rRNA gene and shotgun metagenomic sequencing, we characterized the structure, function, and variation of the healthy pediatric gut microbiome in a cohort of school-aged, pre-adolescent children (ages 7-12 years). We compared the healthy pediatric gut microbiome with that of healthy adults previously recruited from the same region (Houston, TX, USA).
Results: Although healthy children and adults harbored similar numbers of taxa and functional genes, their composition and functional potential differed significantly. Children were enriched in Bifidobacterium spp., Faecalibacterium spp., and members of the Lachnospiraceae, while adults harbored greater abundances of Bacteroides spp. From a functional perspective, significant differences were detected with respect to the relative abundances of genes involved in vitamin synthesis, amino acid degradation, oxidative phosphorylation, and triggering mucosal inflammation. Children's gut communities were enriched in functions which may support ongoing development, while adult communities were enriched in functions associated with inflammation, obesity, and increased risk of adiposity.
Conclusions: Previous studies suggest that the human gut microbiome is relatively stable and adult-like after the first 1 to 3 years of life. Our results suggest that the healthy pediatric gut microbiome harbors compositional and functional qualities that differ from those of healthy adults and that the gut microbiome may undergo a more prolonged development than previously suspected.