Introduction: Breast feeding has long term effects on the developing immune system which outlive passive immunization of the neonate. We have investigated the transfer of milk immune cells and examined the result of transfer once the recipients were adult.
Methods: Non-transgenic mouse pups were foster-nursed by green fluorescent protein (GFP) transgenic dams for 3 weeks and the fate of GFP+ cells was followed by FACS analysis, immunohistochemistry and RT-PCR for GFP and appropriate immune cell markers. Pups suckled by non-transgenic dams served as controls.
Results: Despite a preponderance of B cells and macrophages in the stomach contents of the pups, most cells undergoing trans-epithelial migration derived from the 3-4% of milk cells positive for T lymphocyte markers. These cells homed to the spleen and thymus, with maximal accumulation at 3-4 weeks. By sensitizing dams with an antigen which elicits a T cell-mediated delayed-type-hypersensitivity (DTH) response, we determined that nursing by a sensitized dam (compared to a non-sensitized dam) amplified a subsequent DTH response in females and yet suppressed one in males.
Discussion: These results suggest that clinical evaluation weighing the pros and cons of nursing male versus female children by mothers with genetically-linked hypersensitivity diseases, such as celiac disease and eczema, or those in regions of the world with endemic DTH-eliciting diseases, such as tuberculosis, may be warranted.