Scientists look at the effects of giving penicillin to children and other antibiotics both positive and negative.
After the invention of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have helped us to fend off infections for almost a century. However a growing number of studies point to the adverse effects of early childhood administration of penicillin.
Nonetheless, a new study investigated the effect of a low dose of penicillin on mice’s offspring in late pregnancy and early life. He revolutionized medicine when Sir Alexander Fleming invented penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, in 1928.
Penicillin has since saved many lives as the bacteria-killer has been used to combat a huge range of infectious diseases that have been incurable and deadly until then. Antibiotics based on penicillin are still widely prescribed today. In fact, a 2010 study reported amoxicillin among children all over the world was the most commonly dispensed medicine.
Nonetheless, recent studies expressed concern about the long-term negative effects of early-life penicillin exposure. Maternal antibiotic consumption was associated with a risk of childhood asthma. Allergies, obesity, and neurocognitive impairment in late adulthood were associated with early-life exposure in offspring.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and McMaster University researchers, both in Ontario, Canada, set out to study the long-term effects of early-life penicillin exposure to mice offspring.
The research was published in Nature Communications journal.
Penicillin had long-lasting effects on children, the researchers discovered. In general, antibiotic-treated mice displayed lower levels of anxiety-like activity and higher levels of social aggression.
The antibiotics appeared to affect both sexes equally, altering the bacteria in the gut and developing cytokine expression in the frontal cortex of the mice. Cytokines help control the immune response of the body. The antibiotic has also been shown to change the integrity of the blood-brain barrier a semi-permeable membrane barrier that separates the circulating blood in our body from the brain fluid and tissue.
Dr. John Bienenstock, Director of the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Brain-Body Institute and Distinguished Professor at McMaster University, describes the findings:
“We publish in this paper that low-dose penicillin taken late in mice offspring’s pregnancy and early life affects behavior and microbe balance in the gut.
Although these experiments were performed in mice, they point to increasing common concerns about the long-term effects of antibiotics. In fact, our findings suggest that a probiotic may be effective in preventing penicillin’s detrimental effects.
The scientists found that some of these changes were supported by a probiotic supplement. It was found that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 partially counteracts the effect of antibiotics.
The researchers agree, however, that the sample size of the study for this was very limited, so further studies must validate the positive effects of the probiotic. Bienenstock was concerned about the excessive use of antibiotics by the pediatric population.
“There are almost no babies in North America that have not received a course of antibiotics in their first year of life,” he said.
“In addition to being prescribed antibiotics are also found in meat and dairy products. When, after birth, mothers pass on the effects of these drugs to their unborn children or children, it raises further questions about the long-term effects of antibiotic use in our society.
In the future, if given only to pregnant mothers, the researchers intend to study the effects of penicillin on offspring. In addition, scientists hope to mitigate the negative behavioral effects of antibiotics with the aid of beneficial bacteria, while checking the effectiveness of different bacteria in mice offspring.


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