Progressive Metabolic Dysfunction and Nutritional Variability Precedes Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Nutrients. 2020 Apr 30;12(5):1275. doi: 10.3390/nu12051275.


Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) is associated with prematurity, enteral feedings, and enteral dysbiosis. Accordingly, we hypothesized that along with nutritional variability, metabolic dysfunction would be associated with NEC onset. Methods: We queried a multicenter longitudinal database that included 995 preterm infants (<32 weeks gestation) and included 73 cases of NEC. Dried blood spot samples were obtained on day of life 1, 7, 28, and 42. Metabolite data from each time point included 72 amino acid (AA) and acylcarnitine (AC) measures. Nutrition data were averaged at each of the same time points. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using samples obtained prior to NEC diagnosis and adjusted for potential confounding variables. Nutritional and metabolic data were plotted longitudinally to determine relationship to NEC onset. Results: Day 1 analyte levels of alanine, phenylalanine, free carnitine, C16, arginine, C14:1/C16, and citrulline/phenylalanine were associated with the subsequent development of NEC. Over time, differences in individual analyte levels associated with NEC onset shifted from predominantly AAs at birth to predominantly ACs by day 42. Subjects who developed NEC received significantly lower weight-adjusted total calories (p < 0.001) overall, a trend that emerged by day of life 7 (p = 0.020), and persisted until day of life 28 (p < 0.001) and 42 (p < 0.001). Conclusion: Premature infants demonstrate metabolic differences at birth. Metabolite abnormalities progress in parallel to significant differences in nutritional delivery signifying metabolic dysfunction in premature newborns prior to NEC onset. These observations provide new insights to potential contributing pathophysiology of NEC and opportunity for clinical care-based prevention.

Keywords: growth faltering; growth velocity; metabolomics; necrotizing enterocolitis; newborn calories; newborn metabolic profiling; prematurity; very low birthweight.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Data Analysis
  • Databases as Topic
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / etiology*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / metabolism*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology*
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / metabolism
  • Nutritional Status*


  • Amino Acids