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Early life microbiota is an important determinant of immune and metabolic development and may have lasting consequences. The maternal gut microbiota during pregnancy or breastfeeding is important for defining infant gut microbiota. We hypothesized that maternal gut microbiota during pregnancy and breastfeeding is a critical determinant of infant immunity. To test this, pregnant BALB/c dams were fed vancomycin for 5 days prior to delivery (gestation; Mg), 14 days postpartum during nursing (Mn), or during gestation and nursing (Mgn), or no vancomycin (Mc). We analyzed adaptive immunity and gut microbiota in dams and pups at various times after delivery.

Results - In addition to direct alterations to maternal gut microbial composition, pup gut microbiota displayed lower α-diversity and distinct community clusters according to timing of maternal vancomycin. Vancomycin was undetectable in maternal and offspring sera, therefore the observed changes in the microbiota of stomach contents (as a proxy for breastmilk) and pup gut signify an indirect mechanism through which maternal intestinal microbiota influences extra-intestinal and neonatal commensal colonization. These effects on microbiota influenced both maternal and offspring immunity. Maternal immunity was altered, as demonstrated by significantly higher levels of both total IgG and IgM in Mgn and Mn breastmilk when compared to Mc. In pups, lymphocyte numbers in the spleens of Pg and Pn were significantly increased compared to Pc. This increase in cellularity was in part attributable to elevated numbers of both CD4+ T cells and B cells, most notable Follicular B cells.

Conclusion - Our results indicate that perturbations to maternal gut microbiota dictate neonatal adaptive immunity.

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