Background: Preterm birth is associated with the development of acute and chronic disease, potentially, through the disruption of normal gut microbiome development. Probiotics may correct for microbial imbalances and mitigate disease risk. Here, we used amplicon sequencing to characterise the gut microbiome of probiotic-treated premature infants. We aimed to identify and understand variation in bacterial gut flora from admission to discharge and in association with clinical variables.
Methods: Infants born <32 weeks gestation and <1500 g, and who received probiotic treatment, were recruited in North Queensland Australia. Meconium and faecal samples were collected at admission and discharge. All samples underwent 16S rRNA short amplicon sequencing, and subsequently, a combination of univariate and multivariate analyses.
Results: 71 admission and 63 discharge samples were collected. Univariate analyses showed significant changes in the gut flora from admission to discharge. Mixed-effects modelling showed significantly lower alpha diversity in infants diagnosed with either sepsis or retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and those fed formula. In addition, chorioamnionitis, preeclampsia, sepsis, necrotising enterocolitis and ROP were also all associated with the differential abundance of several taxa.
Conclusions: The lower microbial diversity seen in infants with diagnosed disorders or formula-fed, as well as differing abundances of several taxa across multiple variables, highlights the role of the microbiome in the development of health and disease. This study supports the need for promoting healthy microbiome development in preterm neonates. Impact: Low diversity and differing taxonomic abundances in preterm gut microbiota demonstrated in formula-fed infants and those identified with postnatal conditions, as well as differences in taxonomy associated with preeclampsia and chorioamnionitis, reinforcing the association of the microbiome composition changes due to maternal and infant disease.The largest study exploring an association between the preterm infant microbiome and ROP.A novel association between the preterm infant gut microbiome and preeclampsia in a unique cohort of very-premature probiotic-supplemented infants.