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J Pediatr. 2010 Feb;156(2 Suppl):S16-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.11.015.

Neonatal tolerance under breastfeeding influence: the presence of allergen and transforming growth factor-beta in breast milk protects the progeny from allergic asthma.

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  • 1Universit√© de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Inserm, U924, Valbonne, France.


Once the umbilical cord has been cut, immunologists have often looked at the neonate as an entity that develops on its own. For years, breast milk was considered mainly as a source of nutrients for the developing child. The extensive observations that breastfeeding affords protection toward infectious diseases and could reduce by more than the half the mortality rate because of common infections have added another key role to breastfeeding. This protection relies in great part on the passive transfer through breast milk of high amounts of microbe-specific immunoglobulins that compensate for the deficiency of immunoglobulins synthesis during the first year of life. Here, we will present and discuss our data showing how breast milk can actively shape the immune response of the progeny, particularly in the context of allergic disease. Indeed, our data obtained in a mouse model suggest that the protection attributed to breastfeeding toward asthma development might rely on immune tolerance induction. For this to occur, the mother mice needed to be exposed to the allergen by aerosol or oral route during the lactation period, which resulted into the transfer of the allergen to breast milk. The presence of the allergen together with transforming growth factor-beta in breast milk was necessary and sufficient to induce the development of regulatory T lymphocytes in the progeny and their protection from asthma development. If confirmed in human beings, this study may suggest new strategies for asthma prevention such as deliberate exposure of mother to allergens during breastfeeding and qualitative modification of artificial milks.

Copyright 2010 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

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