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J Pediatr. 2010 Feb;156(2 Suppl):S26-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.11.017.

Bioactive proteins in human milk: mechanisms of action.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, CA, USA. bllonnerdal@ucdavis.edu


Human milk contains a multitude of bioactive proteins, with very diverse functions. Some of these proteins are involved in the synthesis and expression of milk, but the majority appears to have evolved to provide physiological activities in the breast-fed infant. These activities are exerted by a wide variety of mechanisms and have largely been unraveled by in vitro studies. To be active in the gastrointestinal tract, these proteins must be able to resist proteolytic degradation, at least for some time. We have evaluated the human milk proteins lactoferrin, haptocorrin, alpha(1)-antitrypsin, and transforming growth factor -beta in an in vitro digestion model, mimicking the conditions of the infant gastrointestinal milieu. These bioactive proteins are resistant against proteolysis and can remain intact or as larger fragments through passage of the gastrointestinal tract. In vitro digestibility assays can be helpful to assess which human milk proteins can resist proteolysis and to what extent.

Copyright 2010 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

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