Antibacterial and antiviral effects of milk proteins and derivatives thereof

Curr Pharm Des. 2003;9(16):1257-75. doi: 10.2174/1381612033454810.


Milk forms a rich source of biologically interesting components. In particular, its protein fraction is known to encompass many kinds of biological functions. In this review we focus on antibacterial and antiviral properties of milk proteins and milk protein derivatives. The latter include chemically modified proteins and enzymatically induced peptides. If such peptides are released by enzymes present within the digestive tract (e.g. trypsin or pepsin), it is likely that they play a role in the health defense system. This is especially the case when the active fragments can survive the intestinal conditions long enough to arrive at the right place to exert their beneficial function. In the first part of this paper attention is paid to the antibacterial proteins lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme. Furthermore, antibacterial peptides originating from caseins and whey proteins are described. The second part reports on studies of antiviral effects of milk proteins and derivatives thereof. Special focus is directed to the antiviral action towards the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV). Unmodified milk proteins are generally not active against these viruses. An exception is lactoferrin, which shows significant antiviral activity against both HIV and HCMV. Several other milk proteins tested showed strong antiviral effects only after chemical modification, i.e. by making them polyanionic (for anti-HIV activity) or polycationic (for anti-HCMV activity). In a number of cases, conclusions are drawn concerning possible relationships between antibacterial/antiviral activity and molecular structure of the components described.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-HIV Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology
  • Caseins / chemistry
  • Caseins / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Lactoferrin / chemistry
  • Lactoferrin / pharmacology
  • Lactoperoxidase / chemistry
  • Lactoperoxidase / pharmacology
  • Milk Proteins / chemistry*
  • Milk Proteins / pharmacology
  • Muramidase / chemistry
  • Muramidase / pharmacology
  • Peptides*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Caseins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Peptides
  • Lactoperoxidase
  • Muramidase
  • Lactoferrin