Composition of the gut microbiota transcends genetic determinants of malaria infection severity and influences pregnancy outcome


Malaria infection in pregnancy is a major cause of maternal and foetal morbidity and mortality worldwide. Mouse models for gestational malaria allow for the exploration of the mechanisms linking maternal malaria infection and poor pregnancy outcomes in a tractable model system. The composition of the gut microbiota has been shown to influence susceptibility to malaria infection in inbred virgin mice. In this study, we explore the ability of the gut microbiota to modulate malaria infection severity in pregnant outbred Swiss Webster mice.


In Swiss Webster mice, the composition of the gut microbiota was altered by disrupting the native gut microbes through broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment, followed by the administration of a faecal microbiota transplant derived from mice possessing gut microbes reported previously to confer susceptibility or resistance to malaria. Female mice were infected with P. chabaudi chabaudi AS in early gestation, and the progression of infection and pregnancy were tracked throughout gestation. To assess the impact of maternal infection on foetal outcomes, dams were sacrificed at term to assess foetal size and viability. Alternatively, pups were delivered by caesarean section and fostered to assess neonatal survival and pre-weaning growth in the absence of maternal morbidity. A group of dams was also euthanized at mid-gestation to assess infection and pregnancy outcomes.


Susceptibility to infection varied significantly as a function of source of transplanted gut microbes. Parasite burden was negatively correlated with the abundance of five specific OTUs, including Akkermansia muciniphila and OTUs classified as AllobaculumLactobacillus, and S24-7 species. Reduced parasite burden was associated with reduced maternal morbidity and improved pregnancy outcomes. Pups produced by dams with high parasite burdens displayed a significant reduction in survival in the first days of life relative to those from malaria-resistant dams when placed with foster dams. At midgestation, plasma cytokine levels were similar across all groups, but expression of IFNγ in the conceptus was elevated in infected dams, and IL-10 only in susceptible dams. In the latter, transcriptional and microscopic evidence of monocytic infiltration was observed with high density infection; likewise, accumulation of malaria haemozoin was enhanced in this group. These responses, combined with reduced vascularization of the placenta in this group, may contribute to poor pregnancy outcomes. Thus, high maternal parasite burden and associated maternal responses, potentially dictated by the gut microbial community, negatively impacts term foetal health and survival in the early postnatal period.


The composition of the gut microbiota in Plasmodium chabaudi chabaudi AS-infected pregnant Swiss Webster mice transcends the outbred genetics of the Swiss Webster mouse stock as a determinant of malaria infection severity, subsequently influencing pregnancy outcomes in malaria-exposed progeny.

Catherine D. Morffy Smith, Minghao Gong, Alicer K. Andrew, Brittany N. Russ, Yong Ge, Mojgan Zadeh, Caitlin A. Cooper, Mansour Mohamadzadeh, Julie M. Moore. 2019. EBioMedicine.; pii: S2352-3964(19)30360-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.05.052.

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