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Nutr Rev. 2013 Dec;71(12):773-89. doi: 10.1111/nure.12079. Epub 2013 Nov 18.

2'-fucosyllactose: an abundant, genetically determined soluble glycan present in human milk.

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Abbott Nutrition Research Unit, University of Granada Science Park, Granada, Spain.


Lactose is the preeminent soluble glycan in milk and a significant source of energy for most newborn mammals. Elongation of lactose with additional monosaccharides gives rise to a varied repertoire of free soluble glycans such as 2'-fucosyllactose (2'-FL), which is the most abundant oligosaccharide in human milk. In infants, 2'-FL is resistant to digestion and reaches the colon where it is partially fermented, behaving as soluble prebiotic fiber. Evidence also suggests that portions of small soluble milk glycans, including 2'-FL, are absorbed, thus raising the possibility of systemic biological effects. 2'-FL bears an epitope of the Secretor histo-blood group system; approximately 70-80% of all milk samples contain 2'-FL, since its synthesis depends on a fucosyltransferase that is not uniformly expressed. The fact that some infants are not exposed to 2'-FL has helped researchers to retrospectively probe for biological activities of this glycan. This review summarizes the attributes of 2'-FL in terms of its occurrence in mammalian phylogeny, its postulated biological activities, and its variability in human milk.


2′-fucosyllactose; breastfeeding; evolution; glycans; milk; oligosaccharides; prebiotic

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