The principal fucosylated oligosaccharides of human milk exhibit prebiotic properties on cultured infant microbiota

Glycobiology. 2013 Feb;23(2):169-77. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cws138. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


Breast-fed infant microbiota is typically rich in bifidobacteria. Herein, major human milk oligosaccharides (HMOS) are assessed for their ability to promote the growth of bifidobacteria and to acidify their environment, key features of prebiotics. During in vitro anaerobic fermentation of infant microbiota, supplementation by HMOS significantly decreased the pH even greater than supplementation by fructooligosaccharide (FOS), a prebiotic positive control. HMOS elevated lactate concentrations, increased the proportion of Bifidobacterium spp. in culture, and through their fermentation into organic acids, decreased the proportion of Escherichia and Clostridium perfringens. Three principal components of HMOS, 2'-fucosyllactose, lactodifucotetraose and 3-fucosyllactose, were consumed in these cultures. These three principal oligosaccharides of human milk were then individually tested as supplements for in vitro growth of four individual representative strains of infant gut microbes. Bifidobacterium longum JCM7007 and B. longum ATCC15697 efficiently consumed oligosaccharides and produced abundant lactate and short-chain fatty acids, resulting in significant pH reduction. The specificity of fermentation differed by microbe species and strain and by oligosaccharide structure. Escherichia coli K12 and C. perfringens did not utilize appreciable fucosylated oligosaccharides, and a typical mixture of organic acid fermentation products inhibited their growth. In summary, 2'-fucosyllactose, lactodifucotetraose, and 3-fucosyllactose, when cultured with B. longum JCM7007 and B. longum ATCC15697, exhibit key characteristics of a prebiotic in vitro. If these bifidobacteria are representative of pioneering or keystone species for human microbiota, fucosylated HMOS could strongly promote colonization and maintenance of a mutualist symbiotic microbiome. Thus, these simple glycans could mediate beneficial effects of human milk on infant health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bifidobacterium* / drug effects
  • Bifidobacterium* / growth & development
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Fermentation
  • Fucose / chemistry
  • Fucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactic Acid / biosynthesis
  • Metagenome / drug effects
  • Milk, Human* / chemistry
  • Milk, Human* / microbiology
  • Oligosaccharides* / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides* / metabolism
  • Oligosaccharides* / pharmacology
  • Trisaccharides* / pharmacology


  • Oligosaccharides
  • Trisaccharides
  • 3'-fucosyllactose
  • Fucose
  • Lactic Acid
  • 2'-fucosyllactose