Predicted Metabolic Pathway Distributions in Stool Bacteria in Very-Low-Birth-Weight Infants: Potential Relationships with NICU Faltered Growth

Nutrients. 2020 May 8;12(5):1345. doi: 10.3390/nu12051345.


Many very-low-birth-weight (VLBW) infants experience growth faltering in early life despite adequate nutrition. Early growth patterns can affect later neurodevelopmental and anthropometric potentials. The role of the dysbiotic gut microbiome in VLBW infant growth is unknown. Eighty-four VLBW infants were followed for six weeks after birth with weekly stool collection. DNA was extracted from samples and the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene was sequenced with Illumina MiSeq. A similar microbiota database from full-term infants was used for comparing gut microbiome and predicted metabolic pathways. The class Gammaproteobacteria increased or remained consistent over time in VLBW infants. Out of 228 metabolic pathways that were significantly different between term and VLBW infants, 133 pathways were significantly lower in VLBW infants. Major metabolic differences in their gut microbiome included pathways involved in decreased glycan biosynthesis and metabolism, reduced biosynthetic capacity, interrupted amino acid metabolism, changes that could result in increased infection susceptibility, and many other system deficiencies. Our study reveals poor postnatal growth in a VLBW cohort who had dysbiotic gut microbiota and differences in predicted metabolic pathways compared to term infants. The gut microbiota in VLBW infants likely plays an important role in postnatal growth.

Keywords: NICU; dysbiosis; growth; gut microbiome metabolic pathway; gut microbiota; very low birth weight.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology*
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gammaproteobacteria
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight / growth & development*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight / metabolism*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Male
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Amino Acids
  • Polysaccharides