Effect of prebiotic and probiotic supplementation on neurodevelopment in preterm very low birth weight infants: findings from a meta-analysis

Pediatr Res. 2020 Apr;87(5):811-822. doi: 10.1038/s41390-018-0211-9. Epub 2018 Oct 18.


Background: Preterm very low birth weight (VLBW) infants are at risk of gut dysbiosis and neurodevelopmental deficits. Prebiotics and probiotics may modulate gut microbiota and influence brain functions. This review synthesizes literature on effect of prebiotic and/or probiotic supplementation in preterm VLBW on their neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Methods: Search was done using PubMed and CENTRAL. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in preterm infants (<37 weeks gestation) and/or infants with birth weight <1500 g that evaluated the effect of prebiotic and/or probiotic supplementation on neurodevelopmental outcomes were included. Weighted mean difference in cognitive and motor scores; pooled relative risks for cognitive and motor impairment, cerebral palsy, hearing, and visual impairment were estimated. Quality of evidence was assessed using the GRADE criteria.

Results: Out of 275 articles identified, seven were included for review. All, except one, were done in preterms <33 weeks of gestation. Age of assessment of outcomes was ≥18-22 months of corrected age in five studies. Interventions did not decrease or increase the risk of cognitive and motor impairment, cerebral palsy, visual, and hearing impairment. Quality of evidence was "low" to "very low."

Conclusions: Limited evidence from RCTs does not demonstrate a difference in neurodevelopmental outcomes between prebiotic/probiotic treated and untreated control groups.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / therapy*
  • Prebiotics*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk


  • Prebiotics