Changes of Gut Microbiota and Immune Markers During the Complementary Feeding Period in Healthy Breast-fed Infants

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Abstract

Introduction

Little is known about changes in intestinal microbiota during the important period of complementary feeding (weaning). This descriptive study investigated changes of selected gut microbiota and markers of gut permeability and the immune system in breast fed infants during the complementary feeding period.

Methods

22 healthy, exclusively breast fed infants (from birth to 4 months) with no antibiotic intake during the month prior to the study, were followed from 4 to 9 months of age. Faecal and saliva samples were collected at the start of the study (V0) and at monthly intervals (V1—V5) for measurement of selective gut microbiota (bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, vancomycin-insensitive lactobacilli, enterobacteria, enterococci, Clostridium perfringens) using semi-selective media. Immune markers (α-1-antitrypsin, eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), secretory IgA and TNF-α were measured in saliva and secretory IgA and TNF-α in faecal samples.

Results

High stool bifidobacteria counts at the start of the study (7.99 1 1.95 log10 CFU/g faeces) remained stable throughout the 5 months of complementary feeding while counts of enterobacteria and enterococci increased with age (P < 0.05 and P = 0.02 respectively). Vancomycin-insensitive lactobacilli increased significantly during weaning from V0 to V3 (P < 0.01), and then decreased slightly (V4). Faecal Clostridium perfringens remained below the detection limit during the study and parameters measured in saliva did not change. Faecal ECP decreased significantly from 1.011.4 (V0) to 0.510.9 mg/mg protein (V5) P = 0.03.

Conclusion

Age and/or diet modifications during complementary feeding had no impact on faecal bifidobacteria counts but increased those of enterobacteria and enterococci. Transient increases in faecal lactobacilli and vancomycininsensitive lactobacilli counts were observed. The reduction in faecal ECP may indicate a decrease in gut permeability (reinforcement of gut mucosa integrity) during the weaning period with age.

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