Influence of breast-feeding on the production of cytokines

Am J Reprod Immunol. 2001 Feb;45(2):100-2. doi: 10.1111/j.8755-8920.2001.450206.x.


Problem: Recently, we reported increases in the production of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), interleukin-2 (IL-2), and IL-4 during the postpartum period. The present study was undertaken to investigate whether these increases might be explained by increased prolactin while breast-feeding.

Method: Whole blood from 41 women who were breast-feeding, 13 women not breast-feeding, and 31 healthy non-pregnant women was stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate and ionomycin, and the levels of cytokines in the supernatant were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Their serum levels of prolactin were measured by enzyme immunoassay.

Results: Increases in IFN-gamma, IL-2, IL-4, and IL-10 production were observed in women who were breast-feeding but not in women who were not breast-feeding. Serum levels of prolactin correlated with the levels of IFN-gamma in culture supernatant.

Conclusions: These results suggest that breast-feeding induces production of cytokines and that IFN-gamma production is enhanced by physiological concentrations of prolactin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-10 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-4 / biosynthesis
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Prolactin / blood


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-2
  • Interleukin-10
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Prolactin