Herein we investigated the intestinal carriage of α-toxigenic and enterotoxigenic Clostridium perfringens during infancy, focusing on its association with other gut microbes and mode of delivery and feeding. Faecal samples from 89 healthy term infants were collected at age 7 days, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 3 years. C. perfringens was quantified by qPCR; other gut bacteria were quantified by reverse-transcription-qPCR. Alpha-toxigenic C. perfringens was detected in 3.4% infants at day 7 but was present in 35-40% infants at subsequent time-points, with counts ranging from 103-107 cells/g faeces. Enterotoxigenic C. perfringens remained undetected at day 7 but was detected in 1.1, 4.5, 10.1 and 4.5% infants at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 3 years, respectively. Intriguingly, infants carrying α-toxigenic C. perfringens had lower levels of Bacteroides fragilis group, bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and organic acids as compared to non-carriers. Further analyses revealed that, compared to vaginally-born infants, caesarean-born infants had higher carriage of C. perfringens and lower levels of B. fragilis group, bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and faecal organic acids during first 6 months. Compared to formula-fed infants, breast-fed infants were slightly less often colonised with C. perfringens; and within caesarean-born infants, breast-fed infants had slightly lower levels of C. perfringens and higher levels of B. fragilis group, bifidobacteria, and lactobacilli than formula-fed infants. This study demonstrates the quantitative dynamics of toxigenic C. perfringens colonisation in infants during the early years of life. Caesarean-born infants acquire a somewhat perturbed microbiota, and breast-feeding might be helpful in ameliorating this dysbiosis. Higher carriage of toxigenic C. perfringens in healthy infants is intriguing and warrants further investigation of its sources and clinical significance in infants, particularly the caesarean-born who may represent a potential reservoir of this opportunistic pathogen and might be more prone to associated illnesses.
Keywords: Bacteroides fragilis; Bifidobacterium; Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin; Lactobacillus; gut microbiota; phospholipase C.