The early life microbiome plays critical roles in host development, shaping long-term outcomes including brain functioning. It is not known which initial infant colonizers elicit optimal neurodevelopment; thus, this study investigated the association between gut microbiome succession from the first week of life and head circumference growth (HCG), the earliest validated marker for neurodevelopment. Fecal samples were collected weekly from a preterm infant cohort during their neonatal intensive care unit stay and subjected to 16S rRNA gene sequencing for evaluating gut microbiome composition, in conjunction with clinical data and head circumference measurements. Preterm infants with suboptimal HCG trajectories had a depletion in the abundance/prevalence of Bacteroidota and Lachnospiraceae, independent of morbidity and caloric restriction. The severity of gut microbiome depletion matched the timing of significant HCG pattern separation between study groups at 30-week postmenstrual age demonstrating a potential mediating relationship resultant from clinical practices. Consideration of the clinical variables indicated that optimal infant microbiome succession is primarily driven by dispersal limitation (i.e., delivery mode) and secondarily by habitat filtering (i.e., antibiotics and enteral feeding). Bacteroidota and Lachnospiraceae are known core taxa of the adult microbiome, with roles in dietary glycan foraging, beneficial metabolite production and immunity, and our work provides evidence that their integration into the gut microbiome needs to occur early for optimal neurodevelopment.
Keywords: Human gut microbiome; dispersal limitation; habitat filtering; infant microbiome succession; infant neurodevelopment.