Cytokines in human milk: properties and potential effects upon the mammary gland and the neonate

J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 1996 Jul;1(3):251-8. doi: 10.1007/BF02018078.


Epidemiologic and immunologic studies of breastfed and nonbreastfed infants and investigations of certain biologic activities in human milk led to the identification of immunomodulating agents in human milk. Among them were the cytokines interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta); IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, macrophage-colony stimulating factor (M-CSF), tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, epithelial growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha), and TGF-beta 2. Interferon-gamma may originate from T cells in milk; EGF, TGF-alpha, TGF-beta, M-CSF, IL-6, and IL-8 may be produced by mammary gland epithelium. Based upon their known functions, we hypothesize that cytokines influence the development and immunologic function of the mammary gland and the neonate. Those in vivo functions remain to be defined by future investigations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Breast Feeding
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / immunology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Cytokines