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J Nutr Biochem. 2011 Jun;22(6):511-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2010.08.002. Epub 2010 Dec 28.

Nutritional modulation of the gut microbiota and immune system in preterm neonates susceptible to necrotizing enterocolitis.

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Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, 30 Rolighedsvej, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark.


The gastrointestinal inflammatory disorder, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), is among the most serious diseases for preterm neonates. Nutritional, microbiological and immunological dysfunctions all play a role in disease progression but the relationship among these determinants is not understood. The preterm gut is very sensitive to enteral feeding which may either promote gut adaptation and health, or induce gut dysfunction, bacterial overgrowth and inflammation. Uncontrolled inflammatory reactions may be initiated by maldigestion and impaired mucosal protection, leading to bacterial overgrowth and excessive nutrient fermentation. Tumor necrosis factor alpha, toll-like receptors and heat-shock proteins are identified among the immunological components of the early mucosal dysfunction. It remains difficult, however, to distinguish the early initiators of NEC from the later consequences of the disease pathology. To elucidate the mechanisms and identify clinical interventions, animal models showing spontaneous NEC development after preterm birth coupled with different forms of feeding may help. In this review, we summarize the literature and some recent results from studies on preterm pigs on the nutritional, microbial and immunological interactions during the early feeding-induced mucosal dysfunction and later NEC development. We show that introduction of suboptimal enteral formula diets, coupled with parenteral nutrition, predispose to disease, while advancing amounts of mother's milk from birth (particularly colostrum) protects against disease. Hence, the transition from parenteral to enteral nutrition shortly after birth plays a pivotal role to secure gut growth, digestive maturation and an appropriate response to bacterial colonization in the sensitive gut of preterm neonates.

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