Nutrient Restriction has Limited Short-Term Effects on Gut, Immunity, and Brain Development in Preterm Pigs

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BACKGROUND: Extrauterine growth restriction (EUGR) in preterm infants is associated with higher morbidity and impaired neurodevelopment. Early nutrition support may prevent EUGR in preterm infants, but it is not known if this improves organ development and brain function in the short and long term.

OBJECTIVE: Using pigs as models for infants, we hypothesized that diet-induced EUGR impairs gut, immunity, and brain development in preterm neonates during the first weeks after birth.

METHODS: Forty-four preterm caesarean-delivered pigs (Danish Landrace × Large White × Duroc, birth weight 975 ± 235 g, male:female ratio 23:21) from 2 sows were fed increasing volumes [32-180 mL/(kg·d)] of dilute bovine milk (EUGR group) or the same diet fortified with powdered bovine colostrum for 19 d (CONT group, 50-100% higher protein and energy intake than the EUGR group).

RESULTS: The EUGR pigs showed reduced body growth (-39%, P < 0.01), lower plasma albumin, phosphate, and creatine kinase concentrations (-35 to 14%, P < 0.05), increased cortisol and free iron concentrations (+130 to 700%, P < 0.05), and reduced relative weights of the intestine, liver, and spleen (-38 to 19%, all P < 0.05). The effects of EUGR on gut structure, function, microbiota, and systemic immunity were marginal, although EUGR temporarily increased type 1 helper T cell (Th1) activity (e.g. more blood T cells and higher Th1-related cytokine concentrations on day 8) and reduced colon nutrient fermentation (lower SCFA concentration; -45%, P < 0.01). Further, EUGR pigs showed increased relative brain weights (+19%, P < 0.01), however, memory and learning, as tested in a spatial T-maze, were not affected.

CONCLUSION: Most of the measured organ growth, and digestive, immune, and brain functions showed limited effects of diet-induced EUGR in preterm pigs during the first weeks after birth. Likewise, preterm infants may show remarkable physiological adaptation to deficient nutrient supply during the first weeks of life although early life malnutrition may exert negative consequences later.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Nutrition
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1196-1207
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © The Author(s) 2020.

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