BREATHE: Asthma and the Microbiota

(Antibiotics, Asthma, and an Idea)

Approximately 250,000 people die prematurely each year from asthma. Over the past century, asthma prevalence has continued to rise in developed countries. And prevalence is predicted to continue rising. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the number of people living with asthma will likely reach 100 million by 2025. Recent studies have linked antibiotic use with allergic airway disease.* For Brett Finlay (University of British Columbia) the lightbulb moment occurred when his wife, a pediatrician, mentioned that children exposed to antibiotics as infants were more likely to develop asthma. Antibiotic treatment can result in massive changes in the gut microbiota community. Could our gut microbes impact asthma?


The Finlay Lab decided to conduct experiments examining the potential role of the gut microbiota on asthma susceptibility. The research, spearheaded by Shannon Russell, a UBC grad student, utilized an asthma mouse model. Russell found that mice treated with vancomycin, a commercial antibiotic, exhibited a decrease in gut microbes and increase in asthma severity. Changes in microbial composition were most pronounced in perinatal exposure (meaning the mama mice received antibiotics and the antibiotic exposure continued after birth). In contrast, the impact of vancomycin on the gut microbiota of adult mice was less severe. Furthermore, infant mice (but not adult mice!) exposed to vancomycin were significantly more susceptible to asthma.

According to the Finlay Lab, gut microbes have the greatest influence on immune development during a “critical window” from birth to three weeks of age in mice. Antibiotic treatment during this time frame impacts the development of the immune system and may contribute to the development of allergic diseases, including asthma.

The next step involves the development of better antibiotic and/or microbial therapies to treat bacterial infections without promoting asthma development. The gut-lung axis was (and is) a relatively new and unexplored field. I am excited to learn what my fellow lab mates discover next!

Sources + Additional Information:

* For a nice review, check out Noverr and Huffnagle’s “The ‘microflora hypothesis’ of allergic diseases” published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy:

By KCBauer

Hello! My name is KCBauer and I am a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia. I am a researcher, writer, musician, and explorer. Originally from Washington DC, I graduated with a BA in Music and BS in Biology in 2014. This blog focuses on the gut microbiota, the trillions of microorganisms that reside along the digestive tract. My grad research at UBC examines the role of the gut microbiota on human health, brain development, and anthropology. When I am not in the lab, I enjoy ambling through Vancity, listening to music, reading science journals, and hiking. If you have questions, ideas for blog topics, suggestions for place to visit in BC, or corrections send me an email at

2 replies on “BREATHE: Asthma and the Microbiota”

Very interesting. I’m not sure how it would relate to my family. At 85, I’ve always been very thankful I never had asthma. My brother had it, our mother had it lifelong, as did her mother, whose father had it, as did his mother (my great-great-grandmother), and we don’t know before that.


There is definitely a genetic component involved in asthma development! We can’t change genes, but lifestyle practices at a population level may help reduce overall asthma burden 🙂


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