Purpose of review: Bacterial colonization of the infant intestinal tract begins at birth. We are at the forefront of understanding complex relationships between bacteria and multiple parameters of health of the developing infant. Moreover, the establishment of the microbiome in the critical neonatal period is potentially foundational for lifelong health and disease susceptibility. Recent studies utilizing state-of-the-art culture-independent technologies have begun to increase our knowledge about the gut microbiome in infancy, the impact of multiple exposures, and its effects on immune response and clinical outcomes such as allergy and infection.
Recent findings: Postnatal exposures play a central role in the complex interactions between the nearly blank canvas of the neonatal intestine, whereas genetic factors do not appear to be a major factor. Infant microbial colonization is affected by delivery mode, dietary exposures, antibiotic exposure, and environmental toxicants. Successive microbiome acquisition in infancy is likely a determinant of early immune programming, subsequent infection, and allergy risk.
Summary: The novel investigation of the neonatal microbiome is beginning to unearth substantial information, with a focus on immune programming that coevolves with the developing microbiome early in life. Several exposures common to neonatal and infant populations could exert pressure on the development of the microbiome and major diseases including allergy and infection in large populations.