Bacterial bloodstream infections (BSIs) resulting in late-onset sepsis affect up to half of extremely preterm infants and have substantial morbidity and mortality. Bacterial species associated with BSIs in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) commonly colonize the preterm infant gut microbiome. Accordingly, we hypothesized that the gut microbiome is a reservoir of BSI-causing pathogenic strains that increase in abundance before BSI onset. We analyzed 550 previously published fecal metagenomes from 115 hospitalized neonates and found that recent ampicillin, gentamicin, or vancomycin exposure was associated with increased abundance of Enterobacteriaceae and Enterococcaceae in infant guts. We then performed shotgun metagenomic sequencing on 462 longitudinal fecal samples from 19 preterm infants (cases) with BSI and 37 non-BSI controls, along with whole-genome sequencing of the BSI isolates. Infants with BSI caused by Enterobacteriaceae were more likely than infants with BSI caused by other organisms to have had ampicillin, gentamicin, or vancomycin exposure in the 10 days before BSI. Relative to controls, gut microbiomes of cases had increased relative abundance of the BSI-causing species and clustered by Bray-Curtis dissimilarity according to BSI pathogen. We demonstrated that 11 of 19 (58%) of gut microbiomes before BSI, and 15 of 19 (79%) of gut microbiomes at any time, harbored the BSI isolate with fewer than 20 genomic substitutions. Last, BSI strains from the Enterobacteriaceae and Enterococcaceae families were detected in multiple infants, indicating BSI-strain transmission. Our findings support future studies to evaluate BSI risk prediction strategies based on gut microbiome abundance in hospitalized preterm infants.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereadg5562
JournalScience translational medicine
Issue number694
StatePublished - 2023


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