Neonatal small bowel epithelia: enhancing anti-bacterial defense with lactoferrin and Lactobacillus GG

Biometals. 2004 Jun;17(3):285-9. doi: 10.1023/b:biom.0000027706.51112.62.


Background and aims: Extremely preterm human infants have increased susceptibility to small bowel infection. We hypothesized that early colonization of the immature small intestine with Lactobacillus GG (LGG), and use of a recombinant lactoferrin (rhLF) to promote growth of LGG, would enhance gut defenses against enteroinvasive Escherichia coli.

Methods: Newborn rat pups were treated with nothing, intra-gastric LGG, or rhLF + LGG on days 3 and 4 of life. Gut colonization by LGG was quantified in lavaged jejunal and ileal fluid and gut wall homogenates on day 5 of life. Separate studies used similarly treated litters of newborn rats that were infected late on day 4 of life with E. coli [10(12) CFU/kg]. Sixteen hours later, the numbers of E. coli were measured in small bowel fluid and gut wall homogenates.

Results: Control pups initially had lactic acid bacteria colonize the bowel, but these bacteria were not LGG. Pups treated with LGG or rhLF + LGG had significantly higher numbers of LGG in the ileum versus jejunum. Contrary to our hypothesis, rhLF did not augment LGG colonization. After E. coli-related gut infection, planktonic [lavage fluid] and epithelia-adherent growth [gut wall homogenates] of E. coli in the small bowel were most effectively reduced by pre-treatment with rhLF and LGG (P < .05).

Conclusion: Prophylactic therapy with recombinant human lactoferrin and the probiotic, Lactobacillus GG, act to enhance defenses against invasive E. coli in the nascent small intestine. We suggest that rhLF and LGG are therapeutic agents that may reduce necrotizing enterocolitis and gut-related sepsis in preterm human infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology*
  • Intestine, Small / anatomy & histology*
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology*
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism*
  • Lactoferrin / metabolism*
  • Probiotics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Lactoferrin