Background: Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) shape the intestinal microbiota in term infants. In premature infants, alterations in the intestinal microbiota (dysbiosis) are associated with risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and sepsis, and the influence of HMOs on the microbiota is unclear.
Methods: Milk, urine, and stool specimens from 14 mother-premature infant dyads were investigated by mass spectrometry for HMO composition. The stools were analyzed by next-generation sequencing to complement a previous analysis.
Results: Percentages of fucosylated and sialylated HMOs were highly variable between individuals but similar in urine, feces, and milk within dyads. Differences in urine and fecal HMO composition suggest variability in absorption. Secretor status of the mother correlated with the urine and fecal content of specific HMO structures. Trends toward higher levels of Proteobacteria and lower levels of Firmicutes were noted in premature infants of nonsecretor mothers. Specific HMO structures in the milk, urine, and feces were associated with alterations in fecal Proteobacteria and Firmicutes.
Conclusion: HMOs may influence the intestinal microbiota in premature infants. Specific HMOs, for example those associated with secretor mothers, may have a protective effect by decreasing pathogens associated with sepsis and NEC, while other HMOs may increase dysbiosis in this population.