Increased epidermal growth factor levels in human milk of mothers with extremely premature infants

Pediatr Res. 2003 Jul;54(1):15-9. doi: 10.1203/01.PDR.0000065729.74325.71. Epub 2003 Mar 19.


Maternal milk is the major source of nutrients and growth-promoting substances in the first weeks of life for the majority of neonates. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) are trophic peptides present in human milk with significant healing effects on injured gastrointestinal mucosa. Decreasing gestational age of neonates is associated with higher risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, and human milk provides better protection against these diseases compared with formula. The aim of this study was to evaluate the concentrations of EGF and TGF-alpha in human milk collected from mothers with infants born: extremely preterm, preterm, and full term. Milk samples were collected at the end of first, second, and fourth week postpartum from each mother of infants born in one of the three gestational age groups: extremely preterm (23-27 wk, n = 16), preterm (32-36 wk, n = 16), and full term (38-42 wk, n = 15). Milk concentrations of EGF and TGF-alpha were quantified with a homologous RIA in the milk aqueous fraction. Concentrations of EGF in human milk from the extremely preterm group (23-27 wk) were significantly higher compared with values from the preterm and full-term groups throughout the first month of lactation. A similar pattern was observed with human milk TGF-alpha; however, milk TGF-alpha levels were lower than EGF. In conclusion, we have found higher concentrations of EGF and TGF-alpha in human milk of mothers with extremely preterm babies. These data may indicate the potential importance of milk-borne EGF and TGF-alpha for the development of extremely premature infants.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Milk Proteins / analysis
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Transforming Growth Factor alpha / metabolism


  • Milk Proteins
  • Transforming Growth Factor alpha
  • Epidermal Growth Factor