Human milk contains proteins that stimulate and suppress T lymphocyte proliferation

Clin Exp Immunol. 1990 Mar;79(3):463-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.1990.tb08113.x.


The modulatory effect of human milk proteins from colostrum and late milk on the proliferative response of human T lymphocytes activated by mitogens (OKT3 and leucoagglutinin from Phaseolus vulgaris) and alloantigens was studied. High concentrations (10-100 micrograms/ml) of crude colostral milk proteins had an inhibitory effect on T cell growth while low concentrations (0.1-1 microgram/ml) enhanced T cells growth. In contrast, proteins from late milk did not inhibit T lymphocyte proliferation while the enhancing effect was retained. Colostrum was fractionated by ammonium sulphate precipitation and gel filtration on sepharose 6B. The inhibitory activity was recovered in a protein fraction containing lactoferrin as its major component. Lactoferrin was, however, not responsible for the observed inhibition. On the contrary, lactoferrin in most cases augmented the proliferative response induced by polyclonal activators. The inhibitory activity was found to bind concanavalin A-sepharose suggesting an association with glycoprotein. Inhibitory fractions contained glycoproteins of the following molecular sizes 26, 74/76 (doublet), 84, 145 and 160 kD under reducing conditions. The inhibitory effect appeared to be lymphocyte specific since the active fraction did not inhibit the growth of tissue culture cells (HeLa cells and human fibroblasts) or bacteria. Furthermore, the fraction was not toxic for lymphocytes. The inhibitory colostrum factor may prevent the newborn from overreacting immunologically against the environmental antigens encountered at birth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colostrum / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects*
  • Milk Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Milk, Human / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*


  • Milk Proteins