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Pediatr Res. 1999 May;45(5 Pt 1):648-51.

The effect of breast feeding on lymphocyte subpopulations in healthy term infants at 6 months of age.

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Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Flinders University of South Australia, Bedford Park, Australia.


Breast milk contains many immunologically active components that influence the development of the immune system of the breast-fed infant. The purpose of this study was to investigate the difference in specific lymphocyte subsets between breast-fed and formula-fed 6-mo-old infants. Peripheral blood samples were collected from 79 breast-fed (< 120 mL formula/wk) and 69 formula-fed (breast-fed < 4 wk) infants at 6 mo. All infants had been born at term and had no known illness at the time of blood collection. Packed cells from whole blood were incubated with fluorochrome-labeled monoclonal antibodies, followed by erythrocyte lysis. Washed lymphocytes were analyzed by two-color direct immunofluorescence on a flow cytometer. The percentage of T and B lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of 6-mo-old infants was the same, regardless of feeding regimen. However, the relative frequency of natural killer (NK) cells was greater in breast-fed infants than in formula-fed infants (9.7% vs 7.1%; p < 0.001). The percentage of cells expressing CD4 was lower in breast-fed infants than in formula-fed infants (47.3% vs 50.9%; p < 0.005), and that of cells expressing CD8 was greater (18.0% vs 16.4%; p < 0.05). As a result, the CD4:CD8 ratio in breast-fed infants was lower than that in formula-fed infants (2.8 vs 3.3; p < 0.005). The absolute size of the lymphocyte subpopulations T, B, and CD8+ was the same for each of the two populations of infants. However, breast-fed infants had fewer CD4+ T cells (p < 0.05) and a greater number of NK cells (p < 0.01) than the age-matched formula-fed infants. The immunophenotypic differences between breast-fed and formula-fed infants are consistent with reported age-related changes, suggesting greater maturity in the development of the immune system of breast-fed infants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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