Purpose: Epidermal growth factor (EGF), which is present in breast milk, has both trophic and maturational effects on intestinal mucosa. The aim of this study is to determine the effect of EGF on spontaneous intestinal bacterial translocation (BT) in formula-fed newborn rabbits, who have a high incidence of BT compared with breast-fed newborn rabbits.
Methods: Sixty-one rabbit pups were divided into three groups: EGF(-), n=24, EGF(+), n=22, and breast-fed animals, n=15. Both the EGF(-) and EGF(+) groups were gavage fed a standard artificial formula three times daily. EGF was administered subcutaneously three times daily (1.5 microg/g body weight per day) in the EGF(+) group. The breast-fed group was fed by their mothers ad libitum. At 7 days of age, all rabbits were killed, and the mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN), liver, and spleen were cultured qualitatively for bacterial growth, while the cecum and ileum were quantitatively cultured. To determine the effect of EGF on mucus-producing cells, goblet cell numbers in the small intestine were quantified histologically.
Results: There was no BT to MLN, spleen, or liver in the breast-fed group. The incidence of BT to MLN and spleen was significantly lower in the EGF(+) compared with EGF(-) group; (EGF[+]: MLN, 45%; spleen, 32%; Liver, 27%; EGF[-]: MLN, 79%; Spleen 67%; Liver 29%; in EGF[+] MLN and Spleen P<.05 vEGF[-]). There was no significant difference in cecal and ileal bacterial colonization between the EGF(+) and EGF(-) groups. The number of goblet cells in the small intestine was significantly lower in the EGF(-) group compared with the EGF(+) group as follows: EGF(+), 14+/-3; EGF(-), 9+/-3; breast-fed, 11+/-5 goblet cells per 100 epithelial cell nuclei; P=.013.
Conclusions: (1) EGF caused a significant decrease in spontaneous bacterial translocation in formula-fed newborn rabbits and was associated with an increase in the goblet cell number of the small intestine. (2) These changes occurred in spite of the fact that no changes in small bowel bacterial colonization were observed. (3) These results suggest, but do not prove, that EGF may provide protection for neonates from gut origin infection by improving the mucosal barrier function through increased goblet cell production, thus decreasing the incidence of spontaneous bacterial translocation in the newborn.