Bifidobacteria shape host neural circuits during postnatal development by promoting synapse formation and microglial function

Sci Rep. 2020 May 8;10(1):7737. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-64173-3.


We hypothesized that early-life gut microbiota support the functional organization of neural circuitry in the brain via regulation of synaptic gene expression and modulation of microglial functionality. Germ-free mice were colonized as neonates with either a simplified human infant microbiota consortium consisting of four Bifidobacterium species, or with a complex, conventional murine microbiota. We examined the cerebellum, cortex, and hippocampus of both groups of colonized mice in addition to germ-free control mice. At postnatal day 4 (P4), conventionalized mice and Bifidobacterium-colonized mice exhibited decreased expression of synapse-promoting genes and increased markers indicative of reactive microglia in the cerebellum, cortex and hippocampus relative to germ-free mice. By P20, both conventional and Bifidobacterium-treated mice exhibited normal synaptic density and neuronal activity as measured by density of VGLUT2+ puncta and Purkinje cell firing rate respectively, in contrast to the increased synaptic density and decreased firing rate observed in germ-free mice. The conclusions from this study further reveal how bifidobacteria participate in establishing functional neural circuits. Collectively, these data indicate that neonatal microbial colonization of the gut elicits concomitant effects on the host CNS, which promote the homeostatic developmental balance of neural connections during the postnatal time period.