Microbial Programming of Health and Disease Starts During Fetal Life

Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2015 Dec;105(4):265-77. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.21117. Epub 2015 Dec 10.


The pioneer microbiota of the neonatal gut are essential for gut maturation, and metabolic and immunologic programming. Recent research has shown that early bacterial colonization may impact the occurrence of disease later in life (microbial programming). Despite early conflicting evidence, it has long been considered that the womb is a sterile environment and human microbial colonization begins at birth. In the last few years, several findings have reiterated the presence of microbes in infant first stool (meconium) and pointed to the existence of in utero microbial colonization of the infant gut. The dominant bacterial taxa detected in meconium specimens belong to the Enterobacteriaceae family (Escherichia genus) and lactic acid bacteria (notably members of the genera Leuconostoc, Enterococcus, and Lactococcus). Maternal atopy promotes dominance of Enterobacteriaceae in newborn meconium, which in turn may lead to respiratory problems in the infant. This microbial interaction with the host immune system may in fact, originate during fetal life. Our review evaluates the evidence for an intrauterine origin of meconium microbiota, their composition and influences, and potential clinical implications on infant health.

Keywords: childhood diseases; fetal programming; infancy; meconium; microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fetus / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / microbiology*
  • Metagenome*
  • Microbiota*