In addition to providing complete postnatal nutrition, breast milk is a complex biofluid that delivers bioactive components for the growth and development of the intestinal and immune systems. Lactation is a unique opportunity to understand the role of diet in shaping the intestinal environment including the infant microbiome. Of considerable interest is the diversity and abundance of milk glycans that are energetically costly for the mammary gland to produce yet indigestible by infants. Milk glycans comprise free oligosaccharides, glycoproteins, glycopeptides, and glycolipids. Emerging technological advances are enabling more comprehensive, sensitive, and rapid analyses of these different classes of milk glycans. Understanding the impact of inter- and intraindividual glycan diversity on function is an important step toward interventions aimed at improving health and preventing disease. This review discusses the state of technology for glycan analysis and how specific structure-function knowledge is enhancing our understanding of early nutrition in the neonate.
Keywords: bifidobacteria; breast milk glycans; glycomics; immunity; intestinal barrier function.