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Fat composition in infant formula contributes to the severity of necrotising enterocolitis

  • Chhinder P. Sodhi (a1) (a2), William B. Fulton (a1) (a2), Misty Good (a3), Mustafa Vurma (a4), Tapas Das (a4), Chron-Si Lai (a4), Hongpeng Jia (a1) (a2), Yukihiro Yamaguchi (a1) (a2), Peng Lu (a1) (a2), Thomas Prindle (a1) (a2), John A. Ozolek (a5) and David J. Hackam (a1) (a2)...


Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating disease that typically affects formula-fed premature infants, suggesting that dietary components may influence disease pathogenesis. TAG are the major fat components of infant formula, and their digestion requires pancreatic lipases, which may be naturally deficient in premature neonates. We hypothesise that NEC develops partly from the accumulation of incompletely digested long-chain TAG-containing unsaturated fatty acids within the intestinal epithelial cells, leading to oxidative stress and enterocyte damage. We further hypothesise that the administration of a formula that contains reduced TAG (‘pre-digested fat’) that do not require lipase action may reduce NEC severity. To test these hypotheses, we induced NEC in neonatal mice using three different fat formulations, namely ‘standard fat’, ‘pre-digested fat’ or ‘very low fat’, and determined that mice fed ‘standard fat’ developed severe NEC, which was significantly reduced in mice fed ‘pre-digested fat’ or ‘very low fat’. The expression level of the critical fat-digesting enzyme carboxyl ester lipase was significantly lower in the newborn compared with older pups, leading to impaired fat digestion. The accumulation of mal-digested fat resulted in the significant accumulation of fat droplets within the intestinal epithelium of the distal ileum, resulting in the generation of reactive oxygen species and intestinal inflammation. Strikingly, these changes were prevented in pups fed ‘pre-digested fat’ or ‘very low fat’ formulas. These findings suggest that nutritional formula containing a pre-digested fat system may overcome the natural lipase deficiency of the premature gut, and serve as a novel approach to prevent NEC.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: D. J. Hackam, fax +1 410 502 5314, email


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