Environmental enteric dysfunction pathways and child stunting: A systematic review

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2018 Jan 19;12(1):e0006205. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0006205. eCollection 2018 Jan.


Background: Environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) is commonly defined as an acquired subclinical disorder of the small intestine, characterized by villous atrophy and crypt hyperplasia. EED has been proposed to underlie stunted growth among children in developing countries. A collection of biomarkers, organized into distinct domains, has been used to measure different aspects of EED. Here, we examine whether these hypothesized relationships, among EED domains and between each domain and stunting, are supported by data from recent studies.

Methodology: A systematic literature search was conducted using PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, and CINAHL between January 1, 2010 and April 20, 2017. Information on study objective, design, population, location, biomarkers, and results were recorded, as well as qualitative and quantitative definitions of EED. Biomarkers were organized into five EED domains, and the number of studies that support or do not support relationships among domains and between each domain with stunting were summarized.

Results: There was little evidence to support the pathway from intestinal permeability to microbial translocation and from microbial translocation to stunting, but stronger support existed for the link between intestinal inflammation and systemic inflammation and for intestinal inflammation and stunting. There was conflicting evidence for the pathways from intestinal damage to intestinal permeability and intestinal damage to stunting.

Conclusions: These results suggest that certain EED biomarkers may require reconsideration, particularly those most difficult to measure, such as microbial translocation and intestinal permeability. We discuss several issues with currently used biomarkers and recommend further analysis of pathogen-induced changes to the intestinal microbiota as a pathway leading to stunting.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Translocation*
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Child
  • Enteritis / complications*
  • Enteritis / pathology
  • Growth Disorders*
  • Humans


  • Biomarkers