Key nutrients and growth factors for the neonatal gastrointestinal tract

Clin Perinatol. 2002 Mar;29(1):65-96. doi: 10.1016/s0095-5108(03)00065-4.


The nutritional support of gastrointestinal growth and function is an important consideration in the clinical care of neonatal infants. In most health infants, the provision of either breast milk or formula seems to support normal intestinal mucosal growth, but the most significant advantages of breast milk may be for host defense or gut barrier-related functions that are involved in reducing infection. The specific effects of various milk-borne growth factors on key mucosal immune and barrier functions are likely to provide valuable new clues to the advantages of human milk. A substantial number of preterm, low-birth weight babies or those suffering from compromised intestinal function, however, often cannot tolerate oral feedings and instead receive TPN. The consequences of TPN on gastrointestinal function and how this contributes to morbidity of these infants warrants further study, with respect to both clinical and basic research questions. Although enteral nutrition seems to be a critical stimulus for intestinal function, the minimal amounts and composition of nutrients necessary to maintain specific intestinal functions remain to be established. The experimental tools exist to start defining the specific nutrient requirements for the infant gut and some of these nutrients are known (e.g., glutamate, glutamine, and threonine). Peptide growth factors and gut hormones clearly play a role in gut growth and in several ways mediate the trophic actions of enteral nutrition. Although a number of these growth factors are good candidates for therapeutic use, their clinical application in the management of gastrointestinal insufficiency and disease has been slow. The emergence of GLP-2 as a trophic peptide that seems to target the gut is a promising candidate on the horizon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Digestive System / drug effects
  • Digestive System / growth & development*
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Growth Substances / pharmacology
  • Hormones / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nucleotides / pharmacology


  • Amino Acids
  • Cytokines
  • Fatty Acids
  • Growth Substances
  • Hormones
  • Nucleotides