Microbiome profiles are associated with cognitive functioning in 45-month-old children

Fabian Streit, Emese Prandovszky, Tabea Send, Lea Zillich, Josef Frank, Sarven Sabunciyan, Jerome Foo, Lea Sirignano, Bettina Lange, Svenja Bardtke, Glen Hatfield, Stephanie H. Witt, Maria Gilles, Marcella Rietschel, Michael Deuschle, Robert Yolken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal factors have been shown to shape neurobiological functioning and alter the risk for mental disorders later in life. The gut microbiome is established early in life, and interacts with the brain via the brain-immune-gut axis. However, little is known about how the microbiome relates to early-life cognitive functioning in children. The present study, where the fecal microbiome of 380 children was characterized using 16S rDNA and metagenomic sequencing aimed to investigate the association between the microbiota and cognitive functioning of children at the age of 45 months measured with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III). Overall the microbiome profile showed a significant association with cognitive functioning. A strong correlation was found between cognitive functioning and the relative abundance of an unidentified genus of the family Enterobacteriaceae. Follow-up mediation analyses revealed significant mediation effects of the level of this genus on the association of maternal smoking during pregnancy and current cigarette smoking with cognitive function. Metagenomic sequencing of a subset of these samples indicated that the identified genus was most closely related to Enterobacter asburiae. Analysis of metabolic potential showed a nominally significant association of cognitive functioning with the microbial norspermidine biosynthesis pathway. Our results indicate that alteration of the gut microflora is associated with cognitive functioning in childhood. Furthermore, they suggest that the altered microflora might interact with other environmental factors such as maternal cigarette smoking. Interventions directed at altering the microbiome should be explored in terms of improving cognitive functioning in young children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-160
Number of pages10
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Immune-gut axis
  • Microbiome
  • Preschoolers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Immunology


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