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Identification and Quantification of Innate Immune System Mediators in Human Breast Milk

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Breast-feeding decreases the risk of breast cancer in mothers and infection, allergy, and autoimmunity in infants. The presence of mediators of the innate immune system in human milk, including soluble defensins, cathelicidins, and toll-like receptors (TLRs), has not been researched thoroughly. The whey fractions of colostrum and transitional and mature milk (n = 40) from normal mothers (n = 18) and from mothers with autoimmune or allergic diseases (n = 22) were analyzed for defensins by competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and expression of messenger RNA (mRNA) for defensins, TLRs, and cathelicidin-derived antimicrobial peptide (LL-37) by cells in breast milk was determined by semiquantitative reverse-transcription–polymerase chain reaction. In whey, human neutrophil-derived α-defensin 1 (HNP-1) and human -defensin 2 (HBD-2) were present in the highest concentrations (median, 33.0 and 31.3 g/mL, respectively), human α-defensin 6 (HD-6) was present in moderate amounts (3.1 g/mL), and HD-5 and HBD-1 were present in the lowest concentrations (2.4 and 1.7 g/mL, respectively). There was great variability of defensin levels between subjects, but there was no relation to autoimmune or allergic diagnosis. HNP-1, HD-5, and HD-6 were present in significantly higher levels in colostrum than in mature milk. Regarding defensin mRNA expression in the breast milk cells, 95% of the samples (n = 41) were positive for HBD-1, 68% were positive for HD-5, 22% were positive for HBD-3, 15% were positive for HBD-2, 5% were positive for HBD-4, and 2% were positive for HD-6; 88% (14/16) were positive for HNP-1. Breast milk cells also expressed mRNA for TLR1, TLR2, TLR3, TLR4, TLR5, TLR6, TLR7, TLR9, CD14, and LL-37. Human breast milk contains high concentrations of multiple defensin proteins and cells in breast milk express mRNA for these defensins, multiple TLRs, and LL-37. The innate immune system in breast milk is complex and likely provides protection for maternal breast tissue and the developing digestive tract of newborns.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2004

More about this publication?
  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings is a peer reviewed publication dedicated to distributing timely scientific research regarding advancements in the knowledge and practice of allergy, asthma and immunology. Its primary readership consists of allergists and pulmonologists.

    The goal of the Proceedings is to publish articles with a predominantly clinical focus which directly impact quality of care for patients with allergic disease and asthma.

    Featured topics include asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, food allergies, allergic skin diseases, diagnostic techniques, allergens, and treatment modalities. Published material includes peer-reviewed original research, clinical trials and review articles.

    Articles marked "F" offer free full text for personal noncommercial use only.

    The journal is indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science and Science Citation Index Expanded, plus the National Library of Medicine's PubMed service.
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