Comparison of oligosaccharides in milk specimens from humans and twelve other species

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2001;501:325-32. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1371-1_40.


Human milk contains large amounts of many oligosaccharides, most of which are fucosylated; several inhibit pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and toxins that cause disease in humans. Although bovine milk is known to have much less and many fewer types of oligosaccharides, no studies heretofore have indicated whether the amount or complexity of human milk oligosaccharides is unique to our species. Toward this end, a comparison was made of the major individual oligosaccharides in milk specimens from a variety of species, including the great apes. The neutral compounds, which represent the bulk of oligosaccharides in human milk, were isolated, perbenzoylated, resolved by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and detected at 229nm. Ambiguous structures were determined by mass spectrometry. All milk specimens contained lactose, although levels were quite low in bear and kangaroo milk. The types of oligosaccharides in milk specimens from the primates resembled those of human milk, but the amounts, especially of the larger molecules, were markedly lower. The relative amounts of oligosaccharides in the bonobo changed over the course of lactation, as they do in humans. Marine mammals generally had few oligosaccharides in their milk other than 2'-fucosyllactose. Grizzly and black bear milk specimens contained a wide range of oligosaccharides, many of which had novel, fucosylated structures. Milk specimens from humans, bears, and marsupials had the greatest quantity of, and the most complex, neutral oligosaccharides. Although human milk contained more oligosaccharide than did milk specimens from the other species studied, the presence of appreciable amounts of complex oligosaccharides was not unique to humans. This finding suggests that in animal milk specimens, as in human milk, neutral fucosylated oligosaccharides potentially offer protection from pathogens to offspring with immature immune systems.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Artiodactyla
  • Carbohydrate Conformation
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dolphins
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oligosaccharides / analysis*
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Perissodactyla
  • Primates
  • Species Specificity
  • Trichechus
  • Ursidae


  • Oligosaccharides