Background: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among preterm neonates. We aimed to assess a specific gut microbiota profile associated with NEC.
Methods: Stool samples and clinical data were collected from 4 geographically independent neonatal intensive care units, over a 48-month period. Thirty stool samples from preterm neonates with NEC (n = 15) and controls (n = 15) were analyzed by 16S ribosomal RNA pyrosequencing and culture-based methods. The results led us to develop a specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay for Clostridium butyricum, and we tested stool samples from preterm neonates with NEC (n = 93) and controls (n = 270). We sequenced the whole genome of 16 C. butyricum strains, analyzed their phylogenetic relatedness, tested their culture supernatants for cytotoxic activity, and searched for secreted toxins.
Results: Clostridium butyricum was specifically associated with NEC using molecular and culture-based methods (15/15 vs 2/15; P < .0001) or qPCR (odds ratio, 45.4 [95% confidence interval, 26.2-78.6]; P < .0001). Culture supernatants of C. butyricum strains from preterm neonates with NEC (n = 14) exhibited significant cytotoxic activity (P = .008), and we identified in all a homologue of the β-hemolysin toxin gene shared by Brachyspira hyodysenteriae, the etiologic agent of swine dysentery. The corresponding protein was secreted by a NEC-associated C. butyricum strain.
Conclusions: NEC was associated with C. butyricum strains and dysbiosis with an oxidized, acid, and poorly diversified gut microbiota. Our findings highlight the plausible toxigenic mechanism involved in the pathogenesis of NEC.
Keywords: Clostridium butyricum; dysbiosis; gut microbiota; necrotizing enterocolitis; toxins.
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