Human milk and related oligosaccharides as prebiotics

Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2013 Apr;24(2):214-9. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2013.01.008. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) are believed to have a range of biological activities beyond providing nutrition to the infant. Principal among these is that they may act as prebiotics. Prebiotics are dietary ingredients, usually oligosaccharides that provide a health benefit to the host mediated by the modulation of the human gut microbiota. While it is clear that such oligosaccharides may have potential applications in infants and adults alike, this potential is limited by the difficulties in manufacturing HMO. Consequently functional alternatives such as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are under investigation. GOS are produced enzymatically from lactose for commercial use in food applications--including addition to infant formulae--as similar to breast milk oligosaccharides, they encourage a gut bacteria population that promotes health and reduces the incidence of intestinal infections. New methods for separation and concentration of complex, breast milk-like oligosaccharides from bovine milk industrial streams that contain only low amounts of these valuable oligosaccharides are providing the opportunity to investigate other viable sources of specific oligosaccharides for use as prebiotics in supplements or food products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bifidobacterium / drug effects
  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fermentation
  • Galactose / chemistry
  • Galactose / isolation & purification
  • Galactose / metabolism
  • Galactose / pharmacology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Infant Formula / chemistry
  • Lactose / metabolism
  • Metagenome
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / isolation & purification
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism*
  • Oligosaccharides / pharmacology*
  • Prebiotics*


  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • Lactose
  • Galactose