Hantsoo, L., Jasarevic, E., Criniti, S., McGeehan, B., Tanes, C., Sammel, M. D., Elovitz, M. A., Compher, C., Wu, G., & Epperson, C. N.; “Childhood adversity impact on gut microbiota and inflammatory response to stress during pregnancy;” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2019, 75, 240-250; DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2018.11.005.
BACKGROUND: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse or chronic stress, program an exaggerated adult inflammatory response to stress. Emerging rodent research suggests that the gut microbiome may be a key mediator in the association between early life stress and dysregulated glucocorticoid-immune response. However, ACE impact on inflammatory response to stress, or on the gut microbiome, have not been studied in human pregnancy, when inflammation increases risk of poor outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess the relationships among ACE, the gut microbiome, and cytokine response to stress in pregnant women.
METHODS: Physically and psychiatrically healthy adult pregnant women completed the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire (ACE-Q) and gave a single stool sample between 20 and 26weeks gestation. Stool DNA was isolated and 16S sequencing was performed. Three 24-hour food recalls were administered to assess dietary nutrient intake. A subset of women completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) at 22-34weeks gestation; plasma interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta), high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and cortisol were measured at four timepoints pre and post stressor, and area under the curve (AUC) was calculated.
RESULTS: Forty-eight women completed the ACE-Q and provided stool; 19 women completed the TSST. Women reporting 2 or more ACEs (high ACE) had greater differential abundance of gut Prevotella than low ACE participants (q=5.7×10^-13). Abundance of several gut taxa were significantly associated with cortisol, IL-6, TNF-alpha and CRP AUCs regardless of ACE status. IL-6 response to stress was buffered among high ACE women with high intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (p=0.03) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (p=0.05).
DISCUSSION: Our findings suggest that multiple childhood adversities are associated with changes in gut microbiota composition during pregnancy, and such changes may contribute to altered inflammatory and glucocorticoid response to stress. While preliminary, this is the first study to demonstrate an association between gut microbiota and acute glucocorticoid-immune response to stress in a clinical sample. Finally, exploratory analyses suggested that high ACE women with high dietary intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) had a dampened inflammatory response to acute stress, suggesting potentially protective effects of omega-3s in this high-risk population. Given the adverse effects of inflammation on pregnancy and the developing fetus, mechanisms by which childhood adversity influence the gut-brain axis and potential protective factors such as diet should be further explored.