Identification and Quantification of Innate Immune System Mediators in Human Breast Milk
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.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2004
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