The gut microbiome and child mental health: A population-based study

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The link between the gut microbiome and the brain has gained increasing scientific and public interest for its potential to explain psychiatric risk. While differences in gut microbiome composition have been associated with several mental health problems, evidence to date has been largely based on animal models and human studies with modest sample sizes. In this cross-sectional study in 1,784 ten-year-old children from the multi-ethnic, population-based Generation R Study, we aimed to characterize associations of the gut microbiome with child mental health problems. Gut microbiome was assessed from stool samples using 16S rRNA sequencing. We focused on overall psychiatric symptoms as well as with specific domains of emotional and behavioral problems, assessed via the maternally rated Child Behavior Checklist. While we observed lower gut microbiome diversity in relation to higher overall and specific mental health problems, associations were not significant. Likewise, we did not identify any taxonomic feature associated with mental health problems after multiple testing correction, although suggestive findings indicated depletion of genera previously associated with psychiatric disorders, including Hungatella, Anaerotruncus and Oscillospiraceae. The identified compositional abundance differences were found to be similar across all mental health problems. Finally, we did not find significant enrichment for specific microbial functions in relation to mental health problems. In conclusion, based on the largest sample examined to date, we do not find clear evidence of associations between gut microbiome diversity, taxonomies or functions and mental health problems in the general pediatric population. In future, the use of longitudinal designs with repeated measurements of microbiome and psychiatric outcomes will be critical to identify whether and when associations between the gut microbiome and mental health emerge across development and into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-196
Number of pages9
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date6 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The general design of The Generation R Study was made possible by financial support from the Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMW), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Ministry of Youth and Families. This project also received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the following grant agreements: (No 848158 [EarlyCause]; No 733206 [LIFECYCLE]). Charlotte Cecil is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (No 101039672 [TEMPO]). Djawad Radjabzadeh was funded by an Erasmus MC mRACE grant “Profiling of the human gut microbiome”.

Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Author(s)


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