Comparison of the human and bovine milk N-glycome via high-performance microfluidic chip liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry

J Proteome Res. 2012 May 4;11(5):2912-24. doi: 10.1021/pr300008u. Epub 2012 Apr 6.


The isolation of whey proteins from human and bovine milks followed by profiling of their entire N-glycan repertoire is described. Whey proteins resulting from centrifugation and ethanol precipitation of milk were treated with PNGase F to release protein-bound N-glycans. Once released, N-glycans were analyzed via nanoflow liquid chromatography coupled with quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry following chromatographic separation on a porous graphitized carbon chip. In all, 38 N-glycan compositions were observed in the human milk sample while the bovine milk sample revealed 51 N-glycan compositions. These numbers translate to over a hundred compounds when isomers are considered and point to the complexity of the mixture. High mannose, neutral, and sialylated complex/hybrid glycans were observed in both milk sources. Although NeuAc sialylation was observed in both milk samples, the NeuGc residue was only observed in bovine milk and marks a major difference between human and bovine milks. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first MS based confirmation of NeuGc in milk protein bound glycans as well as the first comprehensive N-glycan profile of bovine milk proteins. Tandem MS was necessary for resolving complications presented by the fact that (NeuGc:Fuc) corresponds to the exact mass of (NeuAc:Hex). Comparison of the relative distribution of the different glycan types in both milk sources was possible via their abundances. While the human milk analysis revealed a 6% high mannose, 57% sialylation, and 75% fucosylation distribution, a 10% high mannose, 68% sialylation, and 31% fucosylation distribution was observed in the bovine milk analysis. Comparison with the free milk oligosaccharides yielded low sialylation and high fucosylation in human, while high sialylation and low fucosylation are found in bovine. The results suggest that high fucosylation is a general trait in human, while high sialylation and low fucosylation are general features of glycosylation in bovine milk.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Female
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Mannose / chemistry
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Milk Proteins / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / chemistry
  • Peptide-N4-(N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminyl) Asparagine Amidase
  • Polysaccharides / analysis
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Whey Proteins


  • Milk Proteins
  • Polysaccharides
  • Whey Proteins
  • Peptide-N4-(N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminyl) Asparagine Amidase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid
  • Mannose