The Pregnancy and EARly Life study (PEARL) - A longitudinal study to understand how gut microbes contribute to maintaining health during pregnancy and early life

Sarah Phillips, Rachel Watt, Thomas Atkinson, George M. Savva, Antonietta Hayhoe, Lindsay J. Hall, PEARL study team

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Background: The early life period represents the first step in establishing a beneficial microbial ecosystem, which in turn affects both short and longer-term health. Changes during pregnancy influence the neonatal microbiome; through transmission of maternal microbes during childbirth, and beyond, through nutritional programming. However, in-depth exploration of longitudinal maternal-infant cohorts, with sampling of multiple body sites, complemented by clinical and nutritional metadata, and use of cutting-edge experimental systems are limited. The PEARL study will increase our knowledge of; how microbes (including viruses/phages, bacteria, fungi and archaea) change in composition and functional capacity during pregnancy; transmission pathways from mother to infant; the impact of various factors on microbial communities across pregnancy and early life (e.g. diet), and how these microbes interact with other microbes and modulate host processes, including links to disease onset. Methods: PEARL is a longitudinal observational prospective study of 250 pregnant women and their newborns, with stool and blood samples, questionnaires and routine clinical data collected during pregnancy, labour, birth and up to 24 months post birth. Metagenomic sequencing of samples will be used to define microbiome profiles, and allow for genus, species and strain-level taxonomic identification and corresponding functional analysis. A subset of samples will be analysed for host (immune/metabolite) molecules to identify factors that alter the host gut environment. Culturing will be used to identify new strains of health-promoting bacteria, and potential pathogens. Various in vitro and in vivo experiments will probe underlying mechanisms governing microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions. Discussion: Longitudinal studies, like PEARL, are critical if we are to define biomarkers, determine mechanisms underlying microbiome profiles in health and disease, and develop new diet- and microbe-based therapies to be tested in future studies and clinical trials. Trial registration: This study is registered in the Database with ID: NCT03916874.

Original languageEnglish
Article number357
JournalBMC Pediatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2021


  • Early-life
  • Gut health
  • Health
  • Microbiome
  • Pregnancy

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