Temporal trends in the inflammatory cytokine profile of human breastmilk

Breastfeed Med. 2014 Dec;9(10):530-7. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2014.0043.


A longer lifetime duration of breastfeeding may decrease the risk of breast cancer by reducing breast inflammation and mitigating inflammatory cytokine expression during postlactational involution. However, little is known about how the inflammatory cytokine profile in human breastmilk changes over time. To study temporal trends in breastmilk cytokine expression, we measured 80 human cytokines in the whey fraction of breastmilk samples from 15 mothers at 1, 4, 8, and 12 weeks postpartum. We used mixed models to identify temporal changes in cytokine expression and investigated parity status (multiparous vs. primiparous) as a potential confounder. Nine cytokines (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, epithelial-derived neutrophil-activating protein-78, hepatocyte growth factor, insulin-like growth factor-binding protein-1, interleukin-16, interleukin-8, macrophage colony-stimulating factor, osteoprotegerin, and tissue inhibitor of metallopeptidase-2) had significantly decreased expression with increasing breastfeeding duration; all nine have known roles in breast involution, inflammation, and cancer and may serve as biomarkers of changing breast microenvironment. No cytokine significantly increased in level over the study period. Total protein concentration significantly decreased over time (p<0.0001), which may mediate the association between length of breastfeeding and inflammatory cytokine expression. Parity status did not confound temporal trends, but levels of several cytokines were significantly higher among multiparous versus primiparous women. Our results suggest that inflammatory cytokine expression during lactation is dynamic, and expressed milk may provide a noninvasive window into the extensive biological changes that occur in the postpartum breast.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lactation / immunology
  • Lactation / metabolism*
  • Milk Proteins / immunology
  • Milk Proteins / metabolism*
  • Milk, Human / immunology
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Weaning


  • Cytokines
  • Milk Proteins