Nav: Home

Breastmilk antibody protects preterm infants from deadly intestinal disease

June 17, 2019

PITTSBURGH, June 17, 2019 - A new study from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh finds that an antibody in breastmilk is necessary to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)--an often deadly bacterial disease of the intestine--in preterm infants.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies bind to bacteria in the gut, and, according to the study, the more bacteria that's tied up with IgA, the less likely babies are to develop NEC. Since preterm infants get IgA only from mothers' milk in their fragile first weeks of life, the authors emphasize the importance of breastmilk for these babies. The study appears today in Nature Medicine.

"It's been well known for a decade that babies who get NEC have particular bacteria--Enterobacteriaceae--in their guts, but what we found is that it's not how much Enterobacteriaceae there is, but whether it's bound to IgA that matters. And that's potentially actionable," said senior author Timothy Hand, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the R.K. Mellon Institute for Pediatric Research and Pitt's School of Medicine.

The researchers looked at fecal samples from 30 preterm infants with NEC and 39 age-matched controls. Overall, breastmilk-fed babies had more IgA-bound gut bacteria than their formula-fed peers, and those who developed NEC were more likely to have been formula-fed.

Tracking these infants' gut microbiomes over time, Hand's team found that for the healthy babies, Enterobacteriaceae was largely tied up by IgA, allowing diverse bacterial flora to flourish. But for the NEC infants in the days leading up to diagnosis, IgA-unbound Enterobacteriaceae was free to take over.

To demonstrate causation between IgA and NEC, Hand and his team used a mouse model.

"Mice, when they're born, are equivalent in their intestinal development to a human baby born at 24 weeks," said lead author Kathyayini Gopalakrishna, M.D., a Ph.D. student in the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Human Genetics, "so they're a perfect model to study NEC in preterm infants."

The researchers bred mice that couldn't produce IgA in their breastmilk. Pups reared on IgA-free milk were just as susceptible to NEC as their formula-fed littermates. So, breastfeeding in and of itself is not sufficient for NEC prevention. The milk must contain IgA to confer this specific benefit.

But the solution for NEC may not be as simple as putting IgA into formula, Hand said. Because breastmilk has other benefits beyond IgA, donor milk is still the best option to fill the gap when breastfeeding or providing pumped maternal milk isn't an option.

"What we showed is that IgA is necessary but may not be sufficient to prevent NEC," Hand said. "What we're arguing is that you might want to test the antibody content of donor milk and then target the most protective milk to the most at-risk infants."
-end-
Other authors on the study include Benjamin Macadangdang, M.D., Ph.D., Justin Tometich, Robyn Baker, Junyi Ji, Ansen Burr and Congrong Ma, M.S., from UPMC Children's Hospital; Matthew Rogers, Ph.D., Brian Firek, M.S., and Michael Morowitz, M.S., from Pitt; and Misty Good, M.D., from Washington University School of Medicine.

Funding for this work was provided by the National Institutes of Health (grants K08DK101608, R03DK111473 and R01DK118568), March of Dimes Foundation (grant 5-FY17-79) and the R.K. Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research.

To read this release online or share it, visit http://www.upmc.com/media/news/061719-hand-iga-breastmilk [when embargo lifts].

About the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. Since 1998, Pitt and its affiliated university faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about the Schools of the Health Sciences, please visit http://www.health.pitt.edu.

About UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Regionally, nationally, and globally, UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh is a leader in the treatment of childhood conditions and diseases, a pioneer in the development of new and improved therapies, and a top educator of the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists. With generous community support, UPMC Children's Hospital has fulfilled this mission since its founding in 1890. UPMC Children's is recognized consistently for its clinical, research, educational, and advocacy-related accomplishments, including ranking 15th among children's hospitals and schools of medicine in funding for pediatric research provided by the National Institutes of Health (FY2018).

http://www.upmc.com/media

Contact: Erin Hare
Office: 412-864-7194
Mobile: 412-738-1097
E-mail: HareE@upmc.edu

Contact: Andrea Kunicky
Office: 412-692-6254
Mobile: 412-439-5264
E-mail: KunickyA@upmc.edu

University of Pittsburgh

Related Bacteria Articles:

Conducting shell for bacteria
Under anaerobic conditions, certain bacteria can produce electricity. This behavior can be exploited in microbial fuel cells, with a special focus on wastewater treatment schemes.
Controlling bacteria's necessary evil
Until now, scientists have only had a murky understanding of how these relationships arise.
Bacteria take a deadly risk to survive
Bacteria need mutations -- changes in their DNA code -- to survive under difficult circumstances.
How bacteria hunt other bacteria
A bacterial species that hunts other bacteria has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic, but exactly how this predator tracks down its prey has not been clear.
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
To survive in human cells, chlamydiae have a lot of tricks in store.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
'Pulling' bacteria out of blood
Magnets instead of antibiotics could provide a possible new treatment method for blood infection.
New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body.
Understanding your bacteria
New insight into bacterial cell division could lead to advancements in the fight against harmful bacteria.
Bacteria are individualists
Cells respond differently to lack of nutrients.

Related Bacteria Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...