Geisel Researchers Find Sex-specific Influence of Arsenic on Gut Microbiome in Infants

In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports online, new research from Geisel School of Medicine’s Children’s Environmental Health & Disease Prevention Research Center found that even relatively low levels of arsenic in drinking water sourced from private wells in New Hampshire had a significant association with infant gut microbiome composition.

Anne Hoen, PhD

“The effect was strongest in babies who were not exclusively breast fed, because we know that arsenic is virtually absent from breast milk but can be present in water and infant formula,” says lead author Anne Hoen, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology, of biomedical data science, and of microbiology and immunology. “We also found differences in the nature of this association in boys compared with girls, which we don’t understand well, but something similar has also been shown in mice, so we think there is something there worth investigating further.”

The analysis of 204 infants from their New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study, identified associations between urinary arsenic in 6-week-old infants and the early intestinal microbiome, both in terms of overall microbiome community composition and among bacterial taxa that are critical for immune training in infancy.

Hoen says, to her knowledge this is the first study to look at the association between infant arsenic exposure and gut microbiome composition in the U.S. Previous studies have examined such associations in mice, and other groups have looked at the effects of arsenic on the gut microbiome composition in children in areas of the world with higher levels of arsenic contamination in drinking water.

This work was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIEHS P01ES022832, NIEHS P20ES018175, NIGMS R01GM123014, NIGMS P20GM104416, NLM K01LM011985 and NLM R01LM012723) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (RD-83544201 and RD-83459901).