METHODS: Faecal samples were collected at age 1 week, 1 month and 3 months from 117 infants at high risk of allergic disease. Bifidobacterium species were analysed by quantitative PCR and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism. Infants were examined at 3, 6 and 12 months, and skin prick test was performed at 12 months. Eczema was diagnosed according to the UK Working Party criteria.
RESULTS: The presence of B. catenulatum at 3 months was associated with a higher risk of developing eczema (ORadj = 4.5; 95% CI: 1.56-13.05, padj = 0.005). Infants colonized with B. breve at 1 week (ORadj = 0.29; 95% CI: 0.09-0.95, padj = 0.04) and 3 months (ORadj = 0.15; 95% CI: 0.05-0.44, padj = 0.00001) had a reduced risk of developing eczema. Furthermore, the presence of B. breve at 3 months was associated with a lower risk of atopic sensitization at 12 months (ORadj = 0.38; 95% CI: 0.15-0.98, padj = 0.05). B. breve colonization patterns were influenced by maternal allergic status, household pets and number of siblings.
CONCLUSIONS: Temporal variations in Bifidobacterium colonization patterns early in life are associated with later development of eczema and/or atopic sensitization in infants at high risk of allergic disease. Modulation of the early microbiota may provide a means to prevent eczema in high-risk infants.