Bovine lactoferrin supplementation for prevention of late-onset sepsis in very low-birth-weight neonates: a randomized trial

JAMA. 2009 Oct 7;302(13):1421-8. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.1403.


Context: Sepsis is a common and severe complication in premature neonates, particularly those with very low birth weight (VLBW) (<1500 g). Whether lactoferrin, a mammalian milk glycoprotein involved in innate immune host defenses, can reduce the incidence of sepsis is unknown. In animal models, the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) enhances the activity of lactoferrin but has not been studied in human infants.

Objective: To establish whether bovine lactoferrin (BLF), alone or in combination with LGG, reduces the incidence of late-onset sepsis in VLBW neonates.

Design, setting, and patients: Prospective, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial conducted in 11 Italian tertiary neonatal intensive care units. Patients were 472 VLBW infants enrolled from October 1, 2007, through July 31, 2008, and assessed until discharge for development of sepsis.

Intervention: Infants were randomly assigned to receive orally administered BLF (100 mg/d) alone (n = 153), BLF plus LGG (6 x 10(9) colony-forming units/d) (n = 151), or placebo (n = 168) from birth until day 30 of life (day 45 for neonates <1000 g at birth).

Main outcome measure: First episode of late-onset sepsis, ie, sepsis occurring more than 72 hours after birth with isolation of any pathogen from blood or from peritoneal or cerebrospinal fluid.

Results: Demographic, clinical, and management characteristics of the 3 groups were similar, including type of feeding and intake of maternal milk. Incidence of late-onset sepsis was significantly lower in the BLF and BLF plus LGG groups (9/153 [5.9%] and 7/151 [4.6%], respectively) than in the control group receiving placebo (29/168 [17.3%]) (risk ratio, 0.34; 95% confidence interval, 0.17-0.70; P = .002 for BLF vs control and risk ratio, 0.27; 95% confidence interval, 0.12-0.60; P < .001 for BLF plus LGG vs control). The decrease occurred for both bacterial and fungal sepsis. No adverse effects or intolerances to treatment occurred.

Conclusion: Compared with placebo, BLF supplementation alone or in combination with LGG reduced the incidence of a first episode of late-onset sepsis in VLBW neonates.

Trial registration: Identifier: ISRCTN53107700.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / mortality
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal
  • Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus*
  • Lactoferrin / administration & dosage*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sepsis / mortality
  • Sepsis / prevention & control*


  • Lactoferrin

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN53107700