Background: Early disruption of the microbial community may influence life-long health. Environmental toxicants can contaminate breast milk and the developing infant gut microbiome is directly exposed. We investigated whether environmental toxicants in breastmilk affect the composition and function of the infant gut microbiome at 1 month. We measured environmental toxicants in breastmilk, fecal short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and gut microbial composition from 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using samples from 267 mother-child pairs in the Norwegian Microbiota Cohort (NoMIC). We tested 28 chemical exposures: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated flame retardants (PBDEs), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), and organochlorine pesticides. We assessed chemical exposure and alpha diversity/SCFAs using elastic net regression modeling and generalized linear models, adjusting for confounders, and variation in beta diversity (UniFrac), taxa abundance (ANCOM), and predicted metagenomes (PiCRUSt) in low, medium, and high exposed groups.
Results: PBDE-28 and the surfactant perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) were associated with less microbiome diversity. Some sub-OTUs of Lactobacillus, an important genus in early life, were lower in abundance in samples from infants with relative "high" (> 80th percentile) vs. "low" (< 20th percentile) toxicant exposure in this cohort. Moreover, breast milk toxicants were associated with microbiome functionality, explaining up to 34% of variance in acetic and propionic SCFAs, essential signaling molecules. Per one standard deviation of exposure, PBDE-28 was associated with less propionic acid (- 24% [95% CI - 35% to - 14%] relative to the mean), and PCB-209 with less acetic acid (- 15% [95% CI - 29% to - 0.4%]). Conversely, PFOA and dioxin-like PCB-167 were associated with 61% (95% CI 35% to 87%) and 22% (95% CI 8% to 35%) more propionic and acetic acid, respectively.
Conclusions: Environmental toxicant exposure may influence infant gut microbial function during a critical developmental window. Future studies are needed to replicate these novel findings and investigate whether this has any impact on child health.
Keywords: Birth cohort; Breast milk; Infant gut microbiome; Short-chain fatty acids; Toxicants.