Gut Microbiome Developmental Patterns in Early Life of Preterm Infants: Impacts of Feeding and Gender

PLoS One. 2016 Apr 25;11(4):e0152751. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0152751. eCollection 2016.


Gut microbiota plays a key role in multiple aspects of human health and disease, particularly in early life. Distortions of the gut microbiota have been found to correlate with fatal diseases in preterm infants, however, developmental patterns of gut microbiome and factors affecting the colonization progress in preterm infants remain unclear. The purpose of this prospective longitudinal study was to explore day-to-day gut microbiome patterns in preterm infants during their first 30 days of life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and investigate potential factors related to the development of the infant gut microbiome. A total of 378 stool samples were collected daily from 29 stable/healthy preterm infants. DNA extracted from stool was used to sequence the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene region for community analysis. Operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and α-diversity of the community were determined using QIIME software. Proteobacteria was the most abundant phylum, accounting for 54.3% of the total reads. Result showed shift patterns of increasing Clostridium and Bacteroides, and decreasing Staphylococcus and Haemophilus over time during early life. Alpha-diversity significantly increased daily in preterm infants after birth and linear mixed-effects models showed that postnatal days, feeding types and gender were associated with the α-diversity, p< 0.05-0.01. Male infants were found to begin with a low α-diversity, whereas females tended to have a higher diversity shortly after birth. Female infants were more likely to have higher abundance of Clostridiates, and lower abundance of Enterobacteriales than males during early life. Infants fed mother's own breastmilk (MBM) had a higher diversity of gut microbiome and significantly higher abundance in Clostridiales and Lactobacillales than infants fed non-MBM. Permanova also showed that bacterial compositions were different between males and females and between MBM and non-MBM feeding types. In conclusion, infant postnatal age, gender and feeding type significantly contribute to the dynamic development of the gut microbiome in preterm infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant Food*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Microbiota*
  • Sex Factors