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Vertical mother–neonate transfer of maternal gut bacteria via breastfeeding

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Summary

Breast milk has recently been recognized as source of commensal and potential probiotic bacteria. The present study investigated whether viable strains of gut-associated obligate anaerobes are shared between the maternal and neonatal gut ecosystem via breastfeeding. Maternal faeces, breast milk and corresponding neonatal faeces collected from seven mothers-neonate pairs at three neonatal sampling points were analyzed by culture-independent (pyrosequencing) and culture-dependent methods (16S rRNA gene sequencing, pulsed field gel electrophoresis, random amplified polymorphic DNA and repetitive extragenic palindromic polymerase chain reaction. Pyrosequencing allowed identifying gut-associated obligate anaerobic genera, like Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, Parabacteroides and members of the Clostridia (Blautia, Clostridium, Collinsella and Veillonella) shared between maternal faeces, breast milk and neonatal faeces. Using culture, a viable strain of Bifidobacterium breve was shown to be shared between all three ecosystems within one mother–neonate pair. Furthermore, pyrosequencing revealed that several butyrate-producing members of the Clostridia (Coprococcus, Faecalibacterium, Roseburia and Subdoligranulum) were shared between maternal faeces and breast milk. This study shows that (viable) obligate gut-associated anaerobes may be vertically transferred from mother to neonate via breastfeeding. Thus, our data support the recently suggested hypothesis of a novel way of mother–neonate communication, in which maternal gut bacteria reach breast milk via an entero-mammary pathway to influence neonatal gut colonization and maturation of the immune system.

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