Window-of-opportunity: neonatal gut microbiota and atopy
The microorganisms within the gastrointestinal tract have received considerable attention in recent years as new tools and faster, less expensive genomics approaches, have allowed for associations between microbial behavior and disease (1). Colonization of our GI tract occurs at birth and remains unstable until approximately 3 years of age, a stage of life during which time major physiological systems such as the immune system also develop (2). Longitudinal tracking studies have suggested that this early period is critical in predisposing us to conditions, such as asthma (2,3). By profiling the microbial community using 16s rRNA gene sequencing, Fujimura et al. showed that neonates could be grouped into three broad microbiota conformations. One of these conformations was significantly associated with higher risk of developing atopy, an allergic hypersensitization predisposing individuals to asthma (4) but was only detectable in children under 6 months of age. Furthermore, by using sterile fecal water in T cell polarization assays, Fujimura et al. linked the microbial state with a functional readout relevant to disease (4). This is significant because it identifies a potential window-of-opportunity to identify at-risk individuals and, if a causative mechanism can be revealed, intervene prophylactically to reduce susceptibility.