Brain ganglioside and glycoprotein sialic acid in breastfed compared with formula-fed infants

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):1024-9. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.5.1024.


Background: The concentration of sialic acid in brain gangliosides and glycoproteins has been linked to learning ability in animal studies. Human milk is a rich source of sialic acid-containing oligosaccharides and is a potential source of exogenous sialic acid.

Objective: The aim of the study was to compare the sialic acid concentration in the brain frontal cortex of breastfed and formula-fed infants.

Design: Twenty-five samples of frontal cortex derived from infants who died of sudden infant death syndrome were analyzed. Twelve infants were breastfed, 10 infants were formula-fed, and 1 infant was mixed-fed; the feeding status of the remaining 2 infants was unknown. Ganglioside-bound and protein-bound sialic acid were determined by HPLC. Ganglioside ceramide fatty acids were also analyzed to determine the relation between sialic acid and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Results: After adjustment for sex with age at death as a covariate, ganglioside-bound and protein-bound sialic acid concentrations were 32% and 22% higher, respectively, in the frontal cortex gray matter of breastfed infants than in that of formula-fed infants (P < 0.01). Protein-bound sialic acid increased with age in both groups (P = 0.02). In breastfed but not in formula-fed infants, ganglioside-bound sialic acid correlated significantly with ganglioside ceramide docosahexaenoic acid and total n-3 fatty acids.

Conclusions: Higher brain ganglioside and glycoprotein sialic acid concentrations in infants fed human milk suggests increased synaptogenesis and differences in neurodevelopment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Ceramides / analysis
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / chemistry*
  • Gangliosides / analysis*
  • Gangliosides / metabolism
  • Glycoproteins / analysis*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / analysis*
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / metabolism
  • Sudden Infant Death


  • Ceramides
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Gangliosides
  • Glycoproteins
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid