Synbiotics Combined with Glutamine Stimulate Brain Development and the Immune System in Preterm Pigs

Anders D Andersen, Duc Ninh Nguyen, Louise Langhorn, Ingrid B Renes, Ruurd M van Elburg, Anita Hartog, Sebastian Tims, Yohan van de Looij, Per T Sangild, Thomas Thymann

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background Preterm infants are born with an immature gut, brain, and immune system, predisposing them to short- and long-term complications. Objective We hypothesized that a milk diet supplemented with pre- and probiotics (i.e. synbiotics) and glutamine would improve gut, brain, and immune maturation in preterm neonates, using preterm pigs as a model. Methods Preterm pigs (Landrace x Yorkshire x Duroc, n = 40, delivered by c-section at 90% of gestation) were reared individually until day 23 after birth under highly standardized conditions. Piglets in the intervention group (PPG, n = 20) were fed increasing volumes of bovine milk supplemented with prebiotics (short-chain galacto- and long chain fructo-oligosaccharides 9:1, 4-12 g/L), probiotics (Bifidobacterium breve M16-V, 3 × 10 9 CFU/d) and l-glutamine [0.15-0.30 g/(kg · d)], and compared with pigs fed bovine milk with added placebo compounds as control (CON, n = 20). Clinical, gastrointestinal, immunological, cognitive, and neurological endpoints were measured. Results The PPG pigs showed more diarrhea but weight gain, body composition, and gut parameters were similar between the groups. Cognitive performance, assessed in a T-maze, was significantly higher in PPG pigs (P < 0.01), whereas motor function and exploratory interest were similar between the groups. Using ex vivo diffusion imaging, the orientation dispersion index in brain cortical gray matter was 50% higher (P = 0.04), and fractional anisotropy value was 7% lower (P = 0.05) in PPG pigs compared with CON pigs, consistent with increased dendritic branching in PPG. In associative fibers, radial diffusivity was lower and fractional anisotropy was higher in PPG pigs compared with CON pigs (all P < 0.05), while measures in the internal capsule showed a tendency towards reduced radial diffusivity and mean diffusivity (both P = 0.09). On day 23 pigs in the PPG group showed higher blood leukocyte numbers (+43%), neutrophil counts (+100%), and phagocytic rates (+24%), relative to CON, all P < 0.05. Conclusion Preterm pigs supplemented with Bifidobacterium breve, galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides, and l-glutamine showed enhanced neuronal and immunological development. The findings indicate the potential for targeted nutritional interventions after preterm birth, to support development of important systems such as immunity and brain.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Nutrition
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)36-45
Publication statusPublished - 4. Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • MRI
  • Preterm birth
  • cognition
  • glutamine
  • immunity
  • oligosaccharides
  • probiotics


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