Lactoferrin: an important host defence against microbial and viral attack

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2005 Nov;62(22):2576-87. doi: 10.1007/s00018-005-5372-0.


The first function attributed to lactoferrin (Lf), an iron binding protein belonging to the non-immune natural defences, was antimicrobial activity that depended on its capacity to sequester iron. Iron-independent microbicidal activities, requiring direct interaction between this cationic protein and microbial surface components, were later demonstrated. Many other anti-microbial and anti-viral functions have since been ascribed to Lf. In mucosal secretions, iron and Lf modulate the motility and aggregation of pathogenic bacteria. Lf inhibits bacterial adhesion on abiotic surfaces through ionic binding to biomaterials, or specific binding to bacterial structures or both. Lf inhibition of bacterial adhesion to host cells requires Lf binding to bacteria and/or host cells. Lf hinders microbial internalization by binding to both glycosaminoglycans and bacterial proteins which can be degraded by Lf-mediated proteolysis. Moreover, Lf internalisation and localisation to the host cell nuclei could modulate bacterial entry into cells through gene regulation. Finally, the capability of Lf to exert antiviral activity, through its binding to host cells and/or viral particles, strengthens the idea that it is an important brick in the mucosal wall, effective against both microbial and viral attacks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Antiviral Agents*
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Lactoferrin / physiology*
  • Virus Diseases / metabolism*
  • Virus Diseases / prevention & control*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Lactoferrin