Early-life enteric infections: relation between chronic systemic inflammation and poor cognition in children

Nutr Rev. 2016 Jun;74(6):374-86. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuw008. Epub 2016 May 3.


The intestinal microbiota undergoes active remodeling in the first 6 to 18 months of life, during which time the characteristics of the adult microbiota are developed. This process is strongly influenced by the early diet and enteric pathogens. Enteric infections and malnutrition early in life may favor microbiota dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, resulting in intestinal barrier dysfunction and translocation of intestinal bacterial products, ultimately leading to low-grade, chronic, subclinical systemic inflammation. The leaky gut-derived low-grade systemic inflammation may have profound consequences on the gut-liver-brain axis, compromising normal growth, metabolism, and cognitive development. This review examines recent data suggesting that early-life enteric infections that lead to intestinal barrier disruption may shift the intestinal microbiota toward chronic systemic inflammation and subsequent impaired cognitive development.

Keywords: cognition; enteric infections; environmental enteropathy; intestinal microbiome; malnutrition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections* / genetics
  • Bacterial Infections* / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections* / pathology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition Disorders* / genetics
  • Cognition Disorders* / microbiology
  • Cognition Disorders* / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Helminthiasis* / genetics
  • Helminthiasis* / microbiology
  • Helminthiasis* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation* / genetics
  • Inflammation* / microbiology
  • Inflammation* / pathology
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Intestines / pathology
  • Liver / pathology