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30 April 2012
Formula-feeding impacting infant immune systems

Compared to breast-fed babies, researchers have found significant differences in the gut flora of formula-fed babies, leading to changes in the infant's expression of genes involved in the immune system. Little is known about the potential interactions between an infant's health at a molecular level, their gut microbes, and diet. The new findings, in the journal Genome Biology, show that early colonization of the gut by microbes in infants is critical for their immune system development.

In this study, the researchers compared the intestines of three month old infants that were either exclusively breast-fed or formula-fed. The researchers explain that approximately one-sixth of intestinal epithelial cells are shed every day into feces, providing a non-invasive method to find out what is going on inside the gut.

The results showed that the breast-fed babies had a wider range of microbes in their gut than the formula-fed infants but that their immune systems had developed to cope.

"While we found that the microbiome of breast-fed infants is significantly enriched in genes associated with 'virulence', including resistance to antibiotics and toxic compounds, we also found a correlation between bacterial pathogenicity and the expression of host genes associated with immune and defense mechanisms," explained Robert Chapkin from the Texas A&M University, who led the study. "Our findings suggest that human milk promotes the beneficial crosstalk between the immune system and microbe population in the gut, and maintains intestinal stability."

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Source: Genome Biology

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