Exploring the role of gut bacteria in health and disease in preterm neonates

Jimmy Kok Foo Lee, Loh Teng Hern Tan, Amutha Ramadas, Nurul Syakima Ab Mutalib, Learn Han Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The mortality rate of very preterm infants with birth weight <1500 g is as high as 15%. The survivors till discharge have a high incidence of significant morbidity, which includes necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), early-onset neonatal sepsis (EONS) and late-onset neonatal sepsis (LONS). More than 25% of preterm births are associated with microbial invasion of amniotic cavity. The preterm gut microbiome subsequently undergoes an early disruption before achieving bacterial maturation. It is postulated that bacterial gut colonisation at birth and postnatal intestinal dysbacteriosis precede the development of NEC and LONS in very preterm infants. In fact, bacterial colonization patterns in preterm infants greatly differ from term infants due to maternal chorioamnionitis, gestational age, delivery method, feeding type, antibiotic exposure and the environment factor in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In this regard, this review provides an overview on the gut bacteria in preterm neonates’ meconium and stool. More than 50% of preterm meconium contains bacteria and the proportion increases with lower gestational age. Researchers revealed that the gut bacterial diversity is reduced in preterm infants at risk for LONS and NEC. Nevertheless, the association between gut dysbacteriosis and NEC is inconclusive with regards to relative bacteria abundance and between-sample beta diversity indices. With most studies show a disruption of the Proteobacteria and Firmicutes preceding the NEC. Hence, this review sheds light on whether gut bacteria at birth either alone or in combination with postnatal gut dysbacteriosis are associated with mortality and the morbidity of LONS and NEC in very preterm infants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6963
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Dysbacteriosis
  • Gut bacteria
  • Gut microbiome
  • Mortality
  • Preterm neonates

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