The fatty acid composition of human milk is associated with infant microbial community profile

Diana Taft, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Diana H. Taft1, Kelly A. Dingess1, Christina J. Valentine1,2, Nicholas J. Ollberding1, Doyle V. Ward3, David S. Newburg4, J. Thomas Brenna5, Robert J. McMahon2, and Ardythe L. Morrow1
1. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio;
2. Mead Johnson and Company, Glenview, IL;
3. University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester;
4. Boston College, MA;
5. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Background: The fatty acid (FA) composition of human milk varies between mothers and is influenced by maternal diet and body stores. Evidence suggests that dietary FA may influence the gut microbiota. The impact of dietary FAs on gut microbiota are not well characterized, particularly in breastfed infants.

Objective: We conducted a pilot study to assess the association of variation in human milk FA composition with the infant gut microbiota.

Methods: Human milk and infant stool samples were collected at 4 and 13 weeks postpartum respectively, from 32 mother-infant pairs. Infants were healthy, term singletons. Human milk FAs were measured by a modified Bligh-Dyer technique and analyzed by gas chromatography. Stool DNA was extracted and the 16s rRNA gene sequenced. Using weighted UniFrac, non-metric multi-dimensional scaling visualization, and ordisurf in QIIME and R, we tested for associations between the infant gut microbiome and 25 different FAs of human milk.

Results: Human milk octadecanoic acid (18:0 – common name, stearic acid) concentration was associated with the composition of the infant stool microbial community after adjusting for multiple comparisons (p=0.003). Streptococcus anginosus more frequently colonized infants fed milk with lower levels of stearic acid, while Bacillales, Staphylococcaceae, and Staphylococcus levels were higher in infants fed milk with higher levels of stearic acid. The percent oleic acid (18:1 cis-9) of total FAs in human milk was associated with the composition of infant stool microbial communities. Bifidobacteriales, Bifidobacteriaceae, and Bifidobacterium levels were higher in infants fed milk with lower percentage oleic acid, while Actinomycetaceae and Actinomyces more frequently colonized infants fed milk with higher percentage oleic acid.

Conclusions: This project provides initial evidence that variation in the FA composition of human milk is associated with differences in infant gut microbiota. The relevance of these microbiota signatures to infant health has yet to be determined.

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