Tumor necrosis factor-alpha in human milk

Pediatr Res. 1992 Jan;31(1):29-33. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199201000-00005.


We previously demonstrated that certain biologic activities in human milk were partially blocked by antibodies directed against human tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). In this study, immunochemical methods were used to verify the presence of TNF-alpha in human milk obtained during the first few days of lactation. Gel filtration revealed the presence of TNF-alpha by RIA in molecular weight fractions between 80 and 195 kD. TNF-alpha could not be detected consistently by conventional Western blotting or cytotoxic assays. Although immunoreactive bands were detected by a Western blot-125I protein A technique in TNF-alpha-positive fractions from gel filtration, those bands proved to be nonspecific. TNF-alpha in milk was reliably quantified by the competitive RIA. Those studies revealed that the concentrations of TNF-alpha in milk were 620 +/- 183 pg/mL. Although RNA to TNF-alpha was detected in milk leukocytes by Northern blotting, little TNF-alpha was found in those cells before or after stimulation with N-formyl-l-methionyl-l-leucyl-l-phenylalanine or 4 beta-phorbol-12 beta-myristate-13 alpha-acetate. The origin of this cytokine in human milk remains unclear. Nevertheless, this study suggests that TNF-alpha is present in early human milk in sufficient quantities to exert possible biologic effects upon the mammary gland of the mother or the immune system of the infant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Milk Proteins / immunology
  • Milk, Human / cytology
  • Milk, Human / immunology*
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Molecular Weight
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / isolation & purification*


  • Milk Proteins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • RNA