The Role of the Intestinal Barrier in the Pathogenesis of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Shock. 2007 Feb;27(2):124-33. doi: 10.1097/01.shk.0000239774.02904.65.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the leading cause of death from gastrointestinal disease in neonates and is increasing in frequency because of recent advances in neonatal care. NEC develops in a stressed preterm infant in the setting of intestinal barrier disruption, systemic inflammation, and leads to, multisystem organ failure. The intestinal barrier lies at the interface between microbes within the intestinal lumen and the immune system of the host, and has both immunological and mechanical components. These components serve to protect the host from invading pathogens and, at the same time, provide a surface area for nutrient absorption. Factors that lead to impairments in the function of the intestinal barrier may predispose the host to the invasion of gut-derived microbes and to the development of systemic inflammatory disease. This process, termed "bacterial translocation," may be compounded during instances in which the mechanisms that regulate the repair of the intestinal barrier are disrupted. Bacterial translocation is of particular concern to the newborn patient, in which immaturity of the mechanical barrier and incomplete development of the host immune system combine to render the host at particular risk for the development of intestinal inflammation. This review will serve to provide an overview of recent evidence regarding the components of the intestinal barrier, and the mechanisms by which disruptions in barrier function may contribute to the pathogenesis of NEC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Translocation*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / immunology*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / microbiology
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / pathology
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / immunology*
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / microbiology
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / pathology
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Intestines / pathology
  • Intestines / physiopathology