Infant gut microbiome composition is associated with non-social fear behavior in a pilot study

Nat Commun. 2021 Jun 2;12(1):3294. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-23281-y.


Experimental manipulation of gut microbes in animal models alters fear behavior and relevant neurocircuitry. In humans, the first year of life is a key period for brain development, the emergence of fearfulness, and the establishment of the gut microbiome. Variation in the infant gut microbiome has previously been linked to cognitive development, but its relationship with fear behavior and neurocircuitry is unknown. In this pilot study of 34 infants, we find that 1-year gut microbiome composition (Weighted Unifrac; lower abundance of Bacteroides, increased abundance of Veillonella, Dialister, and Clostridiales) is significantly associated with increased fear behavior during a non-social fear paradigm. Infants with increased richness and reduced evenness of the 1-month microbiome also display increased non-social fear. This study indicates associations of the human infant gut microbiome with fear behavior and possible relationships with fear-related brain structures on the basis of a small cohort. As such, it represents an important step in understanding the role of the gut microbiome in the development of human fear behaviors, but requires further validation with a larger number of participants.

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

  • Adult
  • Bacteroides / classification
  • Bacteroides / genetics*
  • Bacteroides / isolation & purification
  • Brain / physiology
  • Breast Feeding
  • Clostridiales / classification
  • Clostridiales / genetics*
  • Clostridiales / isolation & purification
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Veillonella / classification
  • Veillonella / genetics*
  • Veillonella / isolation & purification
  • Veillonellaceae / classification
  • Veillonellaceae / genetics*
  • Veillonellaceae / isolation & purification


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Supplementary concepts

  • Dialister invisus