The very low birth weight (VLBW) infant is at great risk for marked dysbiosis of the gut microbiome due to multiple factors, including physiological immaturity and prenatal/postnatal influences that disrupt the development of a normal gut flora. However, little is known about the developmental succession of the microbiota in preterm infants as they grow and mature. This review provides a synthesis of our understanding of the normal development of the infant gut microbiome and contrasts this with dysbiotic development in the VLBW infant. The role of human milk in normal gut microbial development is emphasized, along with the role of the gut microbiome in immune development and gastroenteric health. Current research provides evidence that the gut microbiome interacts extensively with many physiological systems and metabolic processes in the developing infant. However, to the best of our knowledge, there are currently no studies prospectively mapping the gut microbiome of VLBW infants through early childhood. This knowledge gap must be filled to inform a healthcare system that can provide for the growth, health, and development of VLBW infants. The paper concludes with speculation about how the VLBW infants' gut microbiome might function through host-microbe interactions to contribute to the sequelae of preterm birth, including its influence on growth, development, and general health of the infant host.
Keywords: Gut microbiota; Health; Preterm infants; VLBW.