The importance of alpha-lactalbumin in infant nutrition

J Nutr. 1991 Mar;121(3):277-83. doi: 10.1093/jn/121.3.277.


The ideal "humanization" of milk substitutes should include the creation of an amino acid pattern closely resembling that of human milk. Because the mixture of proteins in human milk is particularly rich in tryptophan and cysteine and low in methionine, this pattern is difficult to achieve with commercially available proteins. Even whey-predominant formulas only approximate human milk. Human milk has a high concentration of whey protein (70% of total protein). Of this, alpha-lactalbumin, a component of the lactase synthetase complex, accounts for 41% of the whey and 28% of the total protein. Only 3% of the protein in bovine milk is alpha-lactalbumin. Human and bovine alpha-lactalbumin share a 72% amino acid sequence homology. Both proteins contain (wt/wt) 6% tryptophan and 5% cysteine but only 0.9% methionine. Thus the differences in the amino acid compositions of bovine and human milks are largely attributable to differences in their alpha-lactalbumin contents. Commercial availability of bovine alpha-lactalbumin would allow the construction of infant formulas with amino acid compositions that are very close to that of human milk. alpha-Lactalbumin would also be a valuable constituent of diets for patients whose protein intake must be restricted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / analysis
  • Biological Availability
  • Digestion
  • Humans
  • Infant Food / analysis*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactalbumin / pharmacokinetics
  • Lactalbumin / pharmacology*
  • Milk Proteins / analysis
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*


  • Amino Acids
  • Milk Proteins
  • Lactalbumin