Late-onset sepsis (LOS) is a highly consequential complication of preterm birth and is defined by a positive blood culture obtained after 72 h of age. The causative bacteria can be found in patients' intestinal tracts days before dissemination, and cohort studies suggest reduced LOS risk in breastfed preterm infants through unknown mechanisms. Reduced concentrations of epidermal growth factor (EGF) of maternal origin within the intestinal tract of mice correlated to the translocation of a gut-resident human pathogen Escherichia coli, which spreads systemically and caused a rapid, fatal disease in pups. Translocation of Escherichia coli was associated with the formation of colonic goblet cell-associated antigen passages (GAPs), which translocate enteric bacteria across the intestinal epithelium. Thus, maternally derived EGF, and potentially other EGFR ligands, prevents dissemination of a gut-resident pathogen by inhibiting goblet cell-mediated bacterial translocation. Through manipulation of maternally derived EGF and alteration of the earliest gut defenses, we have developed an animal model of pathogen dissemination which recapitulates gut-origin neonatal LOS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7941-7949
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 7 2020


  • Bloodstream infections
  • Breast milk
  • Goblet cells
  • Neonate
  • Sepsis


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