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PLoS One. 2014 Jul 7;9(7):e101692. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101692. eCollection 2014.

Direct evidence for the presence of human milk oligosaccharides in the circulation of breastfed infants.

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Department of Global Discovery Research, Abbott Nutrition, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.
Metabolon, Inc., Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.



It has been hypothesized that human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) confer systemic health benefits to breastfed infants; however, plausible mechanisms for some effects, such as systemic immunomodulation, require HMOs to access the bloodstream of the developing infant. While small concentrations of HMOs have been detected in the urine of breastfed infants there are no published studies of these oligosaccharides accessing the plasma compartment of breastfed infants. Here we determined the relative fractions of several ingested HMOs in infant urine and plasma. Plasma from formula-fed infants was used as a control.


Using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS), and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), we analyzed the urine and plasma from 17 healthy formula-fed infants and 16 healthy breast-fed infants (and the milk from their mothers).


Multiple HMOs were detected in the urine and plasma of breastfed infants, but not in formula-fed infants. Levels of 2'-fucosyllactose (2'FL), 3FL and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) in both plasma (r = 0.98, p<0.001; r = 0.75, p = 0.002; r = 0.71, p = 0.004) and urine (r = 0.81, p<0.001; r = 0.56, p = 0.026; NS) correlated significantly with concentrations in the corresponding breast milk. The relative fractions of HMOs were low, 0.1% of milk levels for plasma and 4% of milk levels for urine. Within the breastfed cohort, there were significant differences between secretor and nonsecretor groups in levels of several fucosylated HMOs.


At least some ingested HMOs are absorbed intact into the circulation and excreted in the urine and their concentrations in these fluids correlate with levels of the corresponding mother's milk. While relative fractions of absorbed HMOs were low, these levels have been shown to have biological effects in vitro, and could explain some of the postulated benefits of human milk.

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