The impact of early-life sub-therapeutic antibiotic treatment (STAT) on excessive weight is robust despite transfer of intestinal microbes

ISME J. 2019 May;13(5):1280-1292. doi: 10.1038/s41396-019-0349-4. Epub 2019 Jan 16.


The high-fat, high-calorie diets of westernized cultures contribute to the global obesity epidemic, and early life exposure to antibiotics may potentiate those dietary effects. Previous experiments with mice had shown that sub-therapeutic antibiotic treatment (STAT)-even restricted to early life-affected the gut microbiota, altered host metabolism, and increased adiposity throughout the lifetime of the animals. Here we carried out a large-scale cohousing experiment to investigate whether cohousing STAT and untreated (Control) mice would transfer the STAT-perturbed microbiota and transmit its impact on weight. We exposed pregnant dams and their young offspring to either low-dose penicillin (STAT) or water (Control) until weaning, and then followed the offspring as they grew and endured a switch from normal to high-fat diet at week 17 of life. Cohousing, which started at week 4, rapidly approximated the microbiota within cages, lowering the weight of STAT mice relative to non-cohoused mice. The effect, however, varied between cages, and was restricted to the first 16 weeks when diet consisted of normal chow. Once mice switched to high-fat diet, the microbiota α- and β-diversity expanded and the effect of cohousing faded: STAT mice, again, were heavier than control mice independently of cohousing. Metabolomics revealed serum metabolites associated with STAT exposure, but no significant differences were detected in glucose or insulin tolerance. Our results show that cohousing can partly ameliorate the impact of STAT on the gut microbiota but not prevent increased weight with high-fat diet. These observations have implications for microbiota therapies aimed to resolve the collateral damage of antibiotics and their load on human obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Penicillin G / administration & dosage*
  • Penicillin G / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Weaning


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Glucose
  • Penicillin G