The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is considered the largest immune organ in the human body to cover 2/3rd of the overall immune tissues and more than three-quarters of the immunoglobulin producing cells.

In understanding the Infant Gut Microbiome; the human body and gut microbiome are a mutualistic symbiosis.

The human host delivers nutrition and protection for the microbial community, whereas the microbial population helps with important functions like assisting the development of the immune system and providing defense against enteric infection.

The Infant Gut Microbiome Establishment

Gut microbiota colonization is a complex, dynamic, and step-wise process in constant development during the first years of life. The microbial settlement occurs in parallel with the maturation of the immune system

Figure. Timeline of factors affecting the development of the infant’s gut from birth to three years

The gut microbiome is colonised by commensal bacteria or beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

Potentially pathogenic bacteria such as streptococci also make up a part of the complex and diverse gut microflora. The homeostasis between the commensal bacteria and the potentially pathogenic bacteria determines the gut immune responses.

Commensal bacteria on the gut surface controls potential pathogen infections by (3)

  • Creating a hostile environment for pathogen survival and establishment
  • Competing for nutrients, adhesion sites, pH receptors
  • Production of specific metabolites and antimicrobial peptides

How does infant feeding practices affect the gut microbiota?

Understanding the Infant Gut Microbiome; In early life, the development of gut microbiota is mostly influenced by infant feeding methods, whether it is breastfeeding or formula feeding. Non-digestible complex carbohydrates also known as prebiotics are one of the important nutrients that positively affect the development of gut microbiota

Prebiotics are the third largest component of breast milk and are known to stimulate the growth of commensal bacteria such as bifidobacteria & lactobacilli in the intestines. Whenever breastfeeding is not possible, using infant formula with prebiotics such as galactooligosaccharides can positively affect the gut microbiome.

Prebiotic supplementation of infant formula has been found to stimulate intestinal bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in a manner that resembles the gut microbiota of breastfed babies.

They are also associated with the reduced growth of pathogenic bacteria in a dose-dependent way.


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In conclusion, the gut microbiome plays an important role in the maturation of the infant immune system. Prebiotics such as galactooligosaccharides positively affect the gut microbiome and thereby play a role in strengthening the immune system.

References

  1. Miqdady M, Al Mistarihi J, Azaz A, Rawat D. Prebiotics in the infant microbiome: The past, present, and future. Pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology & nutrition. 2020 Jan;23(1):1.
  2. Moore RE, Townsend SD. Temporal development of the infant gut microbiome. Open biology. 2019 Sep 27;9(9):190128.
  3. Dzidic M, Boix-Amorós A, Selma-Royo M, Mira A, Collado MC. Gut Microbiota and Mucosal Immunity in the Neonate. Med Sci (Basel). 2018 Jul 17;6(3):56. doi: 10.3390/medsci6030056. PMID: 30018263; PMCID: PMC6163169.
  4. Tanaka M, Nakayama J. Development of the gut microbiota in infancy and its impact on health in later life. Allergology International. 2017;66(4):515-22.
  5. Fanaro S, Boehm G, Garssen J, Knol J, Mosca F, Stahl B, Vigi V. Galacto-oligosaccharides and long-chain fructo-oligosaccharides as prebiotics in infant formulas: a review. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 2005 Oct;94(449):22-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2005.tb02150.x. PMID: 16214761.
  6. Vandenplas Y, De Greef E, Veereman G. Prebiotics in infant formula. Gut Microbes. 2014;5(6):681-7. doi: 10.4161/19490976.2014.972237. PMID: 25535999; PMCID: PMC4615227.

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