Antibiotics are among the most commonly used medications in pregnancy and early childhood. Increasing evidence suggests that disruption of the ecological balance of microbiota in prenatal and early life can derail the trajectory of immune system development, with implications for development of immune-mediated diseases in the child including asthma, eczema and hay fever, all chronic and highly prevalent diseases in industrialized societies. The proposed research seeks to elucidate the role of prenatal and early postnatal antibiotic exposure on childhood atopic diseases with explicit consideration of sources of bias that may account for the positive associations observed in previous observational epidemiologic studies. We will test the hypotheses that use of antibiotics during pregnancy, in the intrapartum period, and/or in infancy contributes to the etiology of atopic dermatitis, allergi rhinitis and asthma during childhood using a historical birth cohort of 552,000 mother-child pairs enrolled in Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC), a large health maintenance organization. Longitudinal data on children born between 1997 and 2014 and their mothers will be assembled by linking across databases, including electronic medical records and pharmacy dispensing records at KPNC, birth records at the California Department of Public Health, and the KPNC Asthma Registry, a unique resource of KPNC Division of Research established in 1996. The exceptionally large sample size will allow for refined assessment of the timing and type of antibiotic use as well as examination of key potential effect modifiers such as delivery mode (vaginal versus Cesarean section), breastfeeding history, and maternal history of allergy or asthma. We will employ innovative methodological and statistical approaches to identify and reduce the sources of bias common in this kind of research, including reverse causality, confounding by indication, and confounding by unmeasured or poorly measured maternal and child factors such as healthcare-seeking behaviors. Methods will include novel application of a future exposure approach to strengthen causal interpretation of our results and expand the tools available for detection, and potentially correction, of bias in observational epidemiologic studies more broadly. Using these approaches we will answer the following questions: what is the effect of cumulative antibiotic exposures from the prenatal period through infancy on child atopic outcomes; are relationships modified by factors such as delivery mode, breastfeeding history, or maternal asthma or allergy history; what are the effects of the timing, characteristics (e.g., spectrum, class, anaerobe coverage, Gram-positive/Gram-negative coverage), and indication of the antibiotics taken on child outcomes; and are antibiotic exposures associated with persistent disease at school age. The highly translational results will help guide safe clinical use of the most commonly prescribed medications in early life.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research investigates effects of prenatal and early-life antibiotic exposures on the risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and allergic rhinitis. Results will advance our understanding of the impacts of antibiotic use during critical windows of development on immune-mediated diseases in order to inform the safe clinical use of the most commonly prescribed medications in early life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Infectious Diseases, Reproductive Health, Asthma and Pulmonary Conditions Study Section (IRAP)
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Dong, Gang
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University of Nevada Reno
Schools of Allied Health Profes
United States
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Pennington, Audrey Flak; Strickland, Matthew J; Klein, Mitchel et al. (2018) Caesarean delivery, childhood asthma, and effect modification by sex: An observational study and meta-analysis. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 32:495-503