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Glycobiology. 2013 Dec;23(12):1425-38. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwt072. Epub 2013 Sep 1.

Glycoconjugates in human milk: protecting infants from disease.

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Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences.


Breastfeeding is known to have many health benefits for a newborn. Not only does human milk provide an excellent source of nutrition, it also contains components that protect against infection from a wide range of pathogens. Some of the protective properties of human milk can be attributed to the immunoglobulins. Yet, there is another level of defense provided by the "sweet" protective agents that human milk contains, including free oligosaccharides, glycoproteins and glycolipids. Sugar epitopes in human milk are similar to the glycan receptors that serve as pathogen adhesion sites in the human gastrointestinal tract and other epithelial cell surfaces; hence, the milk glycans can competitively bind to and remove the disease-causing microorganisms before they cause infection. The protective value of free oligosaccharides in human milk has been well researched and documented. Human milk glycoconjugates have received less attention but appear to play an equally important role. Here, we bring together the breadth of research that has focused on the protective mechanisms of human milk glycoconjugates, with a particular focus on the glycan moieties that may play a role in disease prevention. In addition, human milk glycoconjugates are compared with bovine milk glycoconjugates in terms of their health benefits for the human infant.


glycoconjugate; glycolipid; glycoprotein; human milk; pathogen

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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