Preterm birth and formula feeding predispose to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in infants. As mother's milk is often absent following preterm delivery, infant formula (IF) and human donor milk (HM) are frequently used as alternatives. We have previously shown that porcine and bovine colostrum (BC) provide similar NEC protection in preterm piglets relative to IF. We hypothesized that HM exerts similar effects and that this effect is partly species-independent. Preterm piglets (n = 40) received 2 days of total parenteral nutrition, followed by a rapid transition to full enteral feeding (15 ml·kg(-1)·2 h(-1)) for 2 days using BC (n = 13), HM (n = 13), or IF (n = 14). Intestinal passage time and hexose absorption were tested in vivo. Body and organ weights were recorded on day 5, and macroscopic NEC lesions in the gastrointestinal tract were assessed. Intestinal samples were collected for determination of histomorphology, histopathology, tissue IL-6 and IL-8, organic acids, bacterial adherence by fluorescence in situ hybridization score, and digestive enzyme activities. Relative to IF, pigs from BC and HM showed longer intestinal passage time; higher weight gain, hexose absorptive capacity, mucosal proportion, and enzyme activities; lower NEC incidence, organic acid concentration, and IL-8 concentration; and reduced histopathology lesions. Tissue IL-6 concentration and bacterial adherence score were lower for HM, relative to both BC and IF groups. We conclude that BC and HM are both superior to IF in stimulating gut structure, function, and NEC resistance in preterm piglets. BC may be a relevant alternative to HM when mother's milk is unavailable during the first week after preterm birth.
Keywords: donor milk; intestine; necrotizing enterocolitis; premature.