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Scand J Immunol. 1998 Feb;47(2):131-5.

Cow milk feeding induces antibodies to insulin in children--a link between cow milk and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus?

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Department of Biochemistry, National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland.


Exposure to cow milk (CM)-based formulas in early infancy has been associated with an increased risk of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), but studies on the possible pathogenic mechanism(s) linking CM and IDDM are contradicting. We hypothesized that if CM formulas contained bovine insulin (BI), exposure to them could lead to immunization against insulin, which is the only known beta-cell-specific autoantigen in IDDM. We measured immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies by enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to BI and human insulin (HI) in children who received, during the first 9 months of life, either a formula containing whole CM proteins or a formula containing hydrolyzed casein (HC) peptides. BI was detectable by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and immunoblotting in the CM-based formula. At 6 months of age the children who received CM formula had higher levels of IgG antibodies to BI than children who received either HC formula or children who were exclusively breast-fed (median levels 0.480 versus 0.185, P = 0.04; and 0.480 versus 0.160, P = 0.04; respectively). Also, at 9 months of age, children in the CM group differed from the HC group (0.403 versus 0.230; P = 0.02). Antibodies to BI and HI showed a positive correlation and cross-reacted in inhibition studies. The high incidence of insulin-binding antibodies in young children with IDDM may be explained by oral immunization to BI present in CM. Exposure to BI, which differs from HI only by three amino acids, may break the tolerance to insulin.

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