Development of the intestinal bacterial composition in hospitalized preterm infants in comparison with breast-fed, full-term infants

Pediatr Res. 2003 Sep;54(3):393-9. doi: 10.1203/01.PDR.0000078274.74607.7A. Epub 2003 Jun 4.


The establishment and succession of bacterial communities in hospitalized preterm infants has not been extensively studied. Because earlier studies depended on classical cultural techniques, their results were limited. This study monitored the establishment and succession of the neonatal microbiota in the first weeks of life by analyzing the 16S rDNA variety in fecal samples applying PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE). Fecal samples from 29 preterm infants hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit, including samples from antibiotic-treated infants and one with neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis, were subjected to PCR-DGGE analysis. Daily DGGE profiles from all preterm infants during the first 4 wk were obtained and analyzed. In addition, feces of 15 breast-fed, full-term infants and a variety of clinical bacterial isolates were examined and compared with the PCR-DGGE profiles of the preterm infants. During the first days of life, the DGGE profiles were rather simple but increased in their complexity over time. It became obvious that not only the intraindividual band-pattern similarity increased over time, but also the interindividual. During the observation period, similarity values (Cs) increased in each preterm infant from 0 to 80%, whereas interindividual Cs increased from 18.1 to 57.4%, revealing the acquisition of a highly similar bacterial community in these infants. In contrast, Cs-values obtained for breast-fed, full-term infants were rather low (11.2%). Escherichia coli, Enterococcus sp., and Klebsiella pneumoniae were the bacteria most commonly found in all preterm infants. The interindividual bacterial composition in hospitalized preterm infants is more similar in comparison with breast-fed, full-term infants and is not necessarily influenced by birth weight, diet, or antibiotic treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Breast Feeding*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / analysis
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Intestines / microbiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • DNA, Ribosomal