Necrotizing enterocolitis remains an intractable consequence of preterm birth. Gut microbial communities, especially bacterial communities, have long been suspected to play a role in the development of necrotizing enterocolitis. Direct-from-stool nucleic acid sequencing technology now offers insights into the make-up of these communities. Data are now converging on the roles of Gram-negative bacteria as causative agents, despite the dynamic nature of bacterial populations, the varying technologies and sampling strategies, and the overall small sample sizes in these case-control studies. Bacteria that confer protection from necrotizing enterocolitis have not been identified across studies. The beneficial effect of probiotics is not apparent in infants with birth weights <1000 g (these infants are at greatest risk of, and have the highest case fatality rate from, necrotizing enterocolitis). Further work should be directed to the modulating gut microbes, or the products they produce, to prevent this devastating complication of preterm birth.
Keywords: Gammaproteobacteria; Necrotizing enterocolitis; Preterm infant.
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