Microbiota-immune alterations in adolescents following early life adversity: A proof of concept study

Dev Psychobiol. 2021 Jul;63(5):851-863. doi: 10.1002/dev.22061. Epub 2020 Nov 29.


Early adverse care has long-term impacts on physical and mental health. The influence of rearing conditions on the infant's gut microbiota and its relationship with developmental health has become more evident. The microbiome is essential for normal growth and metabolism, and the signaling from the gut to the brain may underlie individual differences in resilience later in life. Microbial diversity and composition were determined using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing in fecal samples from 17 adolescents adopted internationally from orphanages into the United States and 18 adolescents reared in birth families who had similar educational and income levels. Analyses focused on diversity of the microbial community structure and differences in the abundance of specific bacterial taxa. Blood samples were used to immunophenotype the numbers of several T-cell subsets and cytomegalovirus (CMV) seropositivity. Negative binomial regression analysis revealed several operational taxonomic units that were significantly different based on early rearing conditions and CMV seropositivity. There were significant associations between the relative abundance of certain taxa, the percentages of T-cell subsets in circulation, and CMV seropositivity. These findings demonstrate a possible link between the gut microbiota and associations with immune alterations initiated by early life adversity.

Keywords: adolescent; early adversity; early experience; immune system; microbiome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S