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DOI: 10.3389/fped.2023.1284085; PMCID: PMC10733464


BACKGROUND: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating disease in premature infants, and 50% of infants with surgical NEC develop neurodevelopmental defects. The mechanisms by which NEC-induced cytokine release and activation of inflammatory cells in the brain mediate neuronal injury, and whether enteral immunotherapy attenuates NEC-associated brain injury remain understudied. Based on our prior work, which demonstrated that experimental NEC-like intestinal injury is attenuated by the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate, in this study, we hypothesize that NEC-induced brain injury would be suppressed by enteral butyrate supplementation.

METHODS: A standardized NEC mouse model [enteral formula feeding, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and hypoxia] was used. Mice were randomized into the following groups: control, NEC, butyrate pretreated NEC, and butyrate control. NEC scoring (1-4 with 4 representing severe injury) was performed on ileal sections using a validated scoring system. Intestinal and brain lysates were used to assess inflammation, proinflammatory signaling, and apoptosis.

RESULTS: NEC-induced intestinal injury was attenuated by butyrate supplementation. NEC-induced microglial activation in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus was suppressed with butyrate. NEC increased the number of activated microglial cells but decreased the number of oligodendrocytes. Butyrate pretreatment attenuated these changes. Increased activation of proinflammatory Toll-like receptor signaling, cytokine expression, and induction of GFAP and IBA1 in the cerebral cortex observed with NEC was suppressed with butyrate.

CONCLUSION: Experimental NEC induced inflammation and activation of microglia in several regions of the brain, most prominently in the cortex. NEC-induced neuroinflammation was suppressed with butyrate pretreatment. The addition of short-chain fatty acids to diet may be used to attenuate NEC-induced intestinal injury and neuroinflammation in preterm infants.

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Front Pediatr



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NEC; brain injury; butyrate; inflammation; microglia; oligodendrocyte


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