BACKGROUND: Environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) is common in low- and middle-income countries and associated with childhood undernutrition. The composition of gut microbiota has been implicated in the pathogenesis of EED. Our aim was to assess the associations between gut microbiota and EED biomarkers in rural Malawian children. We hypothesized that there would be an inverse association between microbiota maturity and diversity and fecal concentrations of EED biomarkers. METHODS: We used data from fecal samples collected at 6, 18 and 30 months from 611 children who were followed up during a nutrition intervention trial. The primary time point for analysis was 18 months. Microbiota data were obtained through 16S rRNA sequencing and variables included microbiota maturity and diversity, phylogenetic dissimilarity and relative abundances of individual taxa. EED biomarkers included calprotectin (marker of inflammation), alpha-1 antitrypsin (intestinal permeability) and REG1B (intestinal damage). RESULTS: There was an inverse association between microbiota maturity and diversity and fecal concentrations of all 3 EED biomarkers at 18 months (p≤0.001). The results were similar at 30 months, while at 6 months inverse associations were found only with calprotectin and alpha-1 antitrypsin concentrations. At 18 months, EED biomarkers were not associated with phylogenetic dissimilarity, but at 6 and 30 months several associations were observed. Individual taxa predicting EED biomarker concentrations at 18 months included several Bifidobacterium and Enterobacteriaceae taxa as well as potentially displaced oral taxa. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support the hypothesis of an inverse association between microbiota maturity and diversity and EED in rural Malawian children.
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