Protein nutrition of the neonate

Proc Nutr Soc. 2000 Feb;59(1):87-97. doi: 10.1017/s0029665100000112.


The period of growth and development between birth and weaning is crucial for the long-term well-being of the organism. Protein deposition is very rapid, is achieved with a high nutritional efficiency, and is accompanied by marked differences in the growth rates of individual tissues and a series of maturational processes. These important aspects of development occur while the neonate is consuming a single and highly-specific food source, milk. Surprisingly, although there is a clear relationship between the nutrient density of milk and the growth rate of its recipient, this relationship does not apply to the overall amino acid composition of mixed milk proteins. Some amino acids, notably glycine and arginine, are supplied in milk in quantities that are much less than the needs of the neonate. The milk-fed neonate is therefore capable of carrying out a tightly-regulated transfer of N from amino acids in excess to those that are deficient. The rapid growth of the neonate is supported by a high rate of tissue protein synthesis. This process appears to be activated by the consumption of the first meals of colostrum. Recent research has identified that skeletal muscle and the brain are specifically responsive to an unidentified factor in colostrum. Following the initial anabolic response the rate of protein synthesis in some tissues, notably muscle, falls from birth to weaning. This decrease reflects a progressively smaller anabolic response to nutrient intake, which not only involves an overall fall in the capacity for protein synthesis, but also in responses to insulin and amino acids. The study of growth and protein metabolism, and their regulation in the neonate is not only important for pediatrics, but may provide important pointers to more general aspects of regulation that could be applied to the nutrition of the mature animal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Dietary Proteins* / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins* / metabolism
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Proteins