Milk Fat Globule Glycoproteins in Human Milk and in Gastric Aspirates of Mother's Milk-Fed Preterm Infants

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Human milk fat globule (HMFG) glycoproteins can prevent infections by microorganisms in breast-fed infants; the MUC-1 mucin inhibits binding of S-fimbriated Escherchia coli to buccal mucosa, and lactadherin may prevent symptomatic rotavirus infections. In this study, the survival of these HMFG glycoproteins in the stomach of human milk-fed preterm infants (gestational age = 27.5 ± 0.4 wk) was assessed, and levels in their mother's milk determined, using specific RIAs. Butyrophilin, a major component of HMFG membrane that has no demonstrated antimicrobial activity, was studied for comparison. The levels of mucin, lactadherin, and butyrophilin in 41 milk samples of 20 mothers were 729 ± 75, 93 ± 10, and 41 ± 3 µg/mL, respectively. Mucin and lactadherin were significantly higher in early milk samples (<15 d postpartum) than in later milk samples (15-90 d postpartum), whereas butyrophilin showed no such difference. Significant amounts of mucin and lactadherin were found in almost all gastric aspirates of human milk-fed infants, even 4 h after feeding (mucin, 270 ± 30 µg/mL; lactadherin, 23.2 ± 4.4 µg/mL), whereas butyrophilin was rapidly degraded in the majority of aspirates. Western blot analysis demonstrated that the immunoreactive mucin, lactadherin, and butyrophilin in the milk-fed gastric aspirates had the expected native molecular weights. Mucin and lactadherin survived at all gastric pH values, whereas butyrophilin was found only at pH > 4. Neither lactadherin nor butyrophilin were detected in gastric aspirates of formula-fed infants (gestational age = 27.8 ± 0.5 wk), whereas the very low level of mucin (9.1 ± 1.1 µg/mL) in this group is presumably cross-reacting gastric mucin. These results demonstrate that two HMFG glycoproteins implicated in prevention of infection, MUC-1 mucin and lactadherin, survive and maintain their integrity in the stomachs of human milk-fed preterm infants.

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