Breast-feeding plays an important role for the development of the newborn. Non-breast fed premature born infants show a significantly higher risk of developing diseases like infantile diarrhoea and necrotizing enterocolitis. In this study, the content of neurotrophic factors and cytokines, which might influence the postnatal development of the enteric nervous system (ENS), was determined in human breast milk. Glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) as well as a panel of cytokines were analyzed using single factor or multiplex ELISA. In order to link their presence in milk with possible effects on the development of the ENS, rat myenteric neurons were cultured in protein extracts from breast milk. Neurite outgrowth, neuron survival and nestin expression in glial cells were measured. Growth factors and cytokines were found in all breast milk samples at varying concentrations. It could be demonstrated that protein extracts of breast milk increased the amount of surviving enteric neurones as well as neurite outgrowth. Additionally it was shown, that the number of nestin and S100-expressing glial cells increased significantly after incubating in breast milk protein extracts. The data suggest that milk-born proteins support the development of the enteric nervous system.
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