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Nutrients. 2018 Sep 4;10(9). pii: E1230. doi: 10.3390/nu10091230.

Expression of Granulisyn, Perforin and Granzymes in Human Milk over Lactation and in the Case of Maternal Infection.

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Institute for Stem Cell Research, Helmholtz Center Munich, 85764 Munich, Germany.
Faculty of Science and Medicine, University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland.
School of Molecular Sciences, Faculty of Science, The University of Western Australia, Perth 6009, Australia.
Faculty of Science and Medicine, University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland.


Human milk has been previously found to contain various types of leukocytes however specific characteristics of these cells, such as whether they contain cytolytic antimicrobial proteins that may induce pathogen directed cell death, are unknown. This project aims to examine the presence and localization of immune proteins such as perforin, granulysin and granzymes in human milk cells at the protein and mRNA level. Genes encoding these proteins were confirmed in human milk cell samples, which were particularly enriched in early milk and in the case of maternal infection. Fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) was used to investigate the co-expression of these proteins with pan-immune cell marker CD45 and epithelial marker EPCAM. Co-expression of antimicrobial proteins was found predominantly in CD45 positive cells, also increasing in the case of maternal infection. Our study suggests that human milk contains cells that carry hallmarks of activated or memory T-cells which are enriched early in lactation and in the case of maternal infection. Presence and prevalence of these cells in human milk may indicate a role in the protection of the maternal breast or for delivery to the vulnerable infant.


antimicrobial proteins; human milk; immune cells; milk cells

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