Immune factors secreted in milk are important for health in the neonatal gut. We have detected the bacterial pattern recognition receptor, soluble CD14 (sCD14) in human breast milk at different times during lactation. The molecule occurs in a single form in milk, in contrast to human serum, in which there are two isoforms. Produced by mammary epithelial cells, milk sCD14 mediates secretion of innate immune response molecules such as interleukin-8, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and epithelial neutrophil activator-78 by CD14-negative intestinal epithelial cells exposed to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or bacteria. Although present at low concentrations in milk, LPS-binding protein may be implicated in the biological effects observed. Our findings support the premise that milk sCD14 acts as a 'sentinel' molecule and immune modulator in homeostasis and in the defense of the neonatal intestine. In so doing, it may prevent the immune and inflammatory conditions of the gut to which non-breastfed infants are predisposed.