Lactoferrin is responsible for the fungistatic effect of human milk

Early Hum Dev. 2000 Aug;59(2):95-105. doi: 10.1016/s0378-3782(00)00086-4.


Human milk has recognized anti-microbial effects and it has been repeatedly shown that breast-fed infants have fewer and less severe infections than formula-fed infants. While most studies have focused on anti-bacterial and anti-viral activities few have focused on the anti-fungal effect of human milk. Dermal and other infections caused by fungi are common in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants. Using a liquid culturing method and Candida albicans and Rhodotorula rubra as representative fungi, we studied the anti-fungal effect of human milk and certain human milk proteins. In vitro, human milk showed potent inhibitory effect on fungal growth. Most, if not all of this effect was caused by lactoferrin via its iron-binding capacity; increasing the iron content of the incubation medium abolished the inhibitory effect. In contrast, other human milk proteins with known or suggested anti-microbial effects rather increased fungal growth. Viability test and electron microscopy revealed that the growth inhibitory effect of human milk, i.e. mediated by lactoferrin, is fungistatic rather than fungicidal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents*
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / growth & development
  • Carrier Proteins / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron / pharmacology
  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • Lactoferrin / pharmacology
  • Lactoferrin / physiology*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Mycoses / prevention & control
  • Rhodotorula / drug effects
  • Rhodotorula / growth & development
  • Transferrin-Binding Proteins


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • Transferrin-Binding Proteins
  • Iron
  • Lactoferrin