The role of the intestinal barrier in the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis

Rahul J. Anand, Cynthia L. Leaphart, Kevin P. Mollen, David J. Hackam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the leading cause of death from gastrointestinal disease in neonates and is increasing in frequency because of recent advances in neonatal care. NEC develops in a stressed preterm infant in the setting of intestinal barrier disruption, systemic inflammation, and leads to, multisystem organ failure. The intestinal barrier lies at the interface between microbes within the intestinal lumen and the immune system of the host, and has both immunological and mechanical components. These components serve to protect the host from invading pathogens and, at the same time, provide a surface area for nutrient absorption. Factors that lead to impairments in the function of the intestinal barrier may predispose the host to the invasion of gut-derived microbes and to the development of systemic inflammatory disease. This process, termed "bacterial translocation," may be compounded during instances in which the mechanisms that regulate the repair of the intestinal barrier are disrupted. Bacterial translocation is of particular concern to the newborn patient, in which immaturity of the mechanical barrier and incomplete development of the host immune system combine to render the host at particular risk for the development of intestinal inflammation. This review will serve to provide an overview of recent evidence regarding the components of the intestinal barrier, and the mechanisms by which disruptions in barrier function may contribute to the pathogenesis of NEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-133
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetylcholine
  • Endotoxin
  • Epidermal growth factor
  • High-mobility group box 1 protein
  • Intestinal mucosa
  • Intestinal trefoil factor
  • Nitric oxide
  • Platelet-activating factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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