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Development of the gut microbiome in early life

Lookup NU author(s): Sinéad Ahearn-Ford, Dr Janet Berrington, Dr Christopher StewartORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022 The Authors. Experimental Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society. New Findings: What is the topic of this review? The importance of the early life gut microbiome, with a focus on preterm infants and microbially related diseases. Current techniques to study the preterm gut microbiome are appraised, and the potential of recent methodological advancements is discussed. What advances does it highlight? Recent findings in the field achieved by the application of advanced technologies, the applicability of intestinally derived organoid models to study host–microbiome interactions in the preterm gut, and recent developments in enhancing the physiological relevance of such models. Preterm intestinally derived organoids may provide novel insights into the mechanisms underlying preterm disease, as well as diagnosis and treatment opportunities. These models have huge translational potential, offering a step towards precision medicine. Abstract: Accumulating evidence affirms the importance of the gut microbiome in both health and disease. In early life, there exists a critical period in which the composition of gut microbes is particularly malleable and subject to a wide range of influencing factors. Disturbances to microbial communities during this time may be beneficial or detrimental to short and long-term health outcomes. For infants born prematurely, naïve immune systems, immature gastrointestinal tracts and additional clinical needs put this population at high risk of abnormal microbial colonisation, resulting in increased susceptibility to diseases including necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) and late-onset sepsis (LOS). Traditional cell culture methods, gnotobiotic animals, molecular sequencing techniques (16S rRNA gene sequencing and metagenomics) and advanced ‘omics’ technologies (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) have been fundamental in exploring the associations between diet, gut microbes, microbial functions and disease. Despite significant investment and ongoing research efforts, prevention and treatment strategies in NEC and LOS remain limited. Recent endeavours have focused on searching for new, more physiologically relevant models to simulate the preterm intestine. Preterm intestinally derived organoids represent a promising in vitro approach in the study of host–microbiome interactions in the preterm infant gut, offering new and exciting possibilities in this field.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ahearn-Ford S, Berrington JE, Stewart CJ

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Experimental Physiology

Year: 2022

Volume: 107

Issue: 5

Pages: 415-421

Print publication date: 01/05/2022

Online publication date: 18/01/2022

Acceptance date: 07/01/2022

ISSN (print): 0958-0670

ISSN (electronic): 1469-445X

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc


DOI: 10.1113/EP089919

PubMed id: 35041771