Effects of early-life antibiotics on the developing infant gut microbiome and resistome: a randomized trial.

Nature communications. 2022;13(1):893

Plain language summary

Disturbances of the gut microbial community composition after birth are associated with a broad spectrum of health problems in early infancy and later in life. The ecological side effects of antibiotics may be even more pronounced and persistent when administered in the early assembly phase of the neonatal gut microbiome in the first weeks of life. The aim of this study was to identify the antibiotic regimen with the least ecological and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) gene selection effects. This study was a randomised controlled study in 147 infants who required broad-spectrum antibiotics for treatment of (suspected) early-onset neonatal sepsis (sEONS) in their first week of life. Infants were randomly allocated 1:1:1 to three most commonly prescribed intravenous antibiotic combinations. Results showed that antibiotic-treated infants show temporarily reduced gut microbial diversity, and major and prolonged ecological perturbations, compared with healthy term-born controls. Furthermore, there was also a shift in AMR gene profile. Authors conclude that there are significant long-term effects of broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment. In fact, their findings suggest that more emphasis should be put on reducing the number of neonates that receive broad-spectrum antibiotics for sEONS.


Broad-spectrum antibiotics for suspected early-onset neonatal sepsis (sEONS) may have pronounced effects on gut microbiome development and selection of antimicrobial resistance when administered in the first week of life, during the assembly phase of the neonatal microbiome. Here, 147 infants born at ≥36 weeks of gestational age, requiring broad-spectrum antibiotics for treatment of sEONS in their first week of life were randomized 1:1:1 to receive three commonly prescribed intravenous antibiotic combinations, namely penicillin + gentamicin, co-amoxiclav + gentamicin or amoxicillin + cefotaxime (ZEBRA study, Trial Register NL4882). Average antibiotic treatment duration was 48 hours. A subset of 80 non-antibiotic treated infants from a healthy birth cohort served as controls (MUIS study, Trial Register NL3821). Rectal swabs and/or faeces were collected before and immediately after treatment, and at 1, 4 and 12 months of life. Microbiota were characterized by 16S rRNA-based sequencing and a panel of 31 antimicrobial resistance genes was tested using targeted qPCR. Confirmatory shotgun metagenomic sequencing was executed on a subset of samples. The overall gut microbial community composition and antimicrobial resistance gene profile majorly shift directly following treatment (R2 = 9.5%, adjusted p-value = 0.001 and R2 = 7.5%, adjusted p-value = 0.001, respectively) and normalize over 12 months (R2 = 1.1%, adjusted p-value = 0.03 and R2 = 0.6%, adjusted p-value = 0.23, respectively). We find a decreased abundance of Bifidobacterium spp. and increased abundance of Klebsiella and Enterococcus spp. in the antibiotic treated infants compared to controls. Amoxicillin + cefotaxime shows the largest effects on both microbial community composition and antimicrobial resistance gene profile, whereas penicillin + gentamicin exhibits the least effects. These data suggest that the choice of empirical antibiotics is relevant for adverse ecological side-effects.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Digestive, absorptive and microbiological
Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Infant gut microbiome
Environmental Inputs : Xenobiotics ; Microorganisms
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Environment
Functional Laboratory Testing : Stool

Methodological quality

Jadad score : 3
Allocation concealment : Yes


Nutrition Evidence keywords : Gut microbiome ; Antibiotics