Background: Previous studies of infant fecal samples have failed to clarify the role of gut bacteria in the pathogenesis of NEC. We sought to characterize bacterial communities within intestinal tissue resected from infants with and without NEC.
Methods: 26 intestinal samples were resected from 19 infants, including 16 NEC samples and 10 non-NEC samples. Bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences were amplified and sequenced. Analysis allowed for taxonomic identification, and quantitative PCR was used to quantify the bacterial load within samples.
Results: NEC samples generally contained an increased total burden of bacteria. NEC and non-NEC sample sets were both marked by high inter-individual variability and an abundance of opportunistic pathogens. There was no statistically significant distinction between the composition of NEC and non-NEC microbial communities. K-means clustering enabled us to identify several stable clusters, including clusters of NEC and midgut volvulus samples enriched with Clostridium and Bacteroides. Another cluster containing both NEC and non-NEC samples was marked by an abundance of Enterobacteriaceae and decreased diversity among NEC samples.
Conclusions: The results indicate that NEC is a disease without a uniform pattern of microbial colonization, but that NEC is associated with an abundance of strict anaerobes and a decrease in community diversity.