New research (in mice): Strain of E.coli identified in the gut of female mice may cause a mother to ‘neglect’ her offspring

Toni Harman
3 min readApr 21, 2021


This is interesting not just because of what it suggests about the gut-brain axis, but also what it might suggest about how the gut microbiome can influence the behaviour of new mothers.

A new study has identified a specific strain of E. coli bacteria that when found in the gut of female mice, can alter a mother’s behaviour — leading to the mother ‘neglecting’ her offspring.

Lee Y.M. et. al. (2021) identified a strain of Escherichia coli in the gut of female mice. This strain was pathogenic in the early postnatal stage, resulting in the stunted growth of the baby mice.

Researchers found that the E.coli strain interfered with maternal behaviour, contributing to a kind of ‘neglectful’ behaviour. This led to the malnourishment of the baby mice, leading to stunted growth.

To quote from the abstract:

“However, rather than having a direct pathogenic effect on the infant, we found that this particular E. coli strain was pathogenic to the dams by interfering with the maturation of maternal behavior. This resulted in malnourishment of the pups and impaired insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) signaling, leading to the consequential stunted growth.”

To summarise: this research suggests that the gut microbiome of the mother mouse can affect postnatal growth of the baby mouse. The strain of E. coli in the mother’s gut microbiome can affect her behaviour towards her offspring.

The research team includes Professor Lars Bode. Professor Lars Bode is one of the 7 scientists featured in our Breast Milk and the Infant Microbiome course.

My take-home thoughts:

Obviously, humans are very different from mice, but what if this specific type of bacteria had the same effect in humans?

Perhaps this type of bacteria might be found in the gut of some new mothers, and might affect the way they behave towards their newborn baby.

What do you think?

Article and science reference

Easy-to-understand article:

Science reference: Lee YM, Mu A, Wallace M, Gengatharan JM, Furst AJ, Bode L, Metallo CM, Ayres JS. Microbiota control of maternal behavior regulates early postnatal growth of offspring. Sci Adv. 2021 Jan 29;7(5):eabe6563. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6563. PMID: 33514556; PMCID: PMC7846171.


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Toni Harman

I help parents and health professionals better understand the science of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the microbiome.