Milk matters: soluble Toll-like receptor 2 (sTLR2) in breast milk significantly inhibits HIV-1 infection and inflammation

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40138. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040138. Epub 2012 Jul 6.


The majority of infants who breastfeed from their HIV-positive mothers remain uninfected despite constant and repeated exposure to virus over weeks to years. This phenomenon is not fully understood but has been closely linked to innate factors in breast milk (BM). Most recently we have focused on one such innate factor, soluble Toll-like receptor 2 (sTLR2) for its significant contribution as an inhibitor of inflammation triggered by bacterial and viral antigens. We hypothesized that sTLR2 in BM inhibits immune activation/inflammation and HIV-1 infection. sTLR2 protein profiles were analyzed in HIV-uninfected BM and showed dramatic variability in expression concentration and predominant sTLR2 forms between women. sTLR2 immunodepleted BM, versus mock-depleted BM, incubated with Pam(3)CSK(4) lead to significant increases in IL-8 production in a TLR2-dependant fashion in U937, HEK293-TLR2, and Caco-2. Importantly, TLR2-specific polyclonal and monoclonal antibody addition to BM prior to cell-free R5 HIV-1 addition led to significantly (P<0.01, P<0.001, respectively) increased HIV-1 infection in TZM-bl reporter cells. To confirm these findings, sTLR2-depletion in BM led to significantly (P<0.001) increased HIV-1 infection in TZM-bl cells. Notably, immunodepletion does not allow for the complete removal of sTLR2 from BM, thus functional testing shown here may underestimate the total effect elicited by sTLR2 against HIV-1 and synthetic bacterial ligand. This study provides evidence for the first time that sTLR2 in BM may provide a dual protective role for infants breastfeeding from their HIV-infected mothers by; (1) immunomodulating pro-inflammatory responses to bacterial ligands, and (2) directly inhibiting cell-free HIV-1 infection. Thus, sTLR2 in BM may be critical to infant health and prove beneficial in decreasing vertical HIV-1 transmission to infants.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / blood
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antibody Specificity / immunology
  • Bacterial Proteins / immunology
  • Cell Line
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins / immunology
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Milk, Human / immunology*
  • Peptides / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2 / chemistry
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2 / immunology*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2 / metabolism


  • Antibodies
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Lipoproteins
  • Peptides
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2