Oligosaccharide Composition of Breast Milk Influences Survival of Uninfected Children Born to HIV-Infected Mothers in Lusaka, Zambia1,2

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Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) have multiple immunomodulatory functions that influence child health.


In this study we investigated whether HMO composition influences survival to 2 y of age in HIV-infected and HIV-exposed, uninfected (HEU) children during and after breastfeeding.


In the context of an early weaning trial in 958 HIV-infected women in Lusaka, Zambia, we conducted a nested case-cohort analysis of mortality to 2 y of age among 103 HIV-infected and 143 HEU children. Breast-milk samples collected at 1 mo postpartum were analyzed for HMO content. Samples were selected to include mothers of all HIV-infected children detected by 6 wk of age, of whom 63 died at <2 y of age; mothers of all HEU children who died at <2 y of age (n = 66); and a random sample of 77 HEU survivors. Associations before and after weaning in HIV-infected and HEU infants separately were investigated by using Cox models.


Among HEU children, higher maternal breast-milk concentrations of 2-linked fucosylated HMOs [2′-fucosyllactose and lacto-N-fucopentaose (LNFP) I] (HR: 0.33; 95% CI: 0.14, 0.74) as well as non-2-linked fucosylated HMOs (3-fucosyllactose and LNFP II/III; HR: 0.28; 95% CI: 0.13, 0.67) were significantly associated with reduced mortality during, but not after, breastfeeding after adjustment for confounders. Breastfeeding was protective against mortality only in HEU children with high concentrations of fucosylated HMOs. Among HIV-infected children, no consistent associations between HMOs and mortality were observed, but breastfeeding was protective against mortality.


The oligosaccharide composition of breast milk may explain some of the benefits of breastfeeding in HEU children. HIV infection may modulate some of the consequences of HMOs on child survival.

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