Structure-function relationship of the milk fat globule

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Mar;18(2):118-27. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000138.


Purpose of review: The complex biochemical composition and physical structure of the milk fat globule (MFG) are presented as a basis for its paradoxical metabolic fate: MFG is a rapid conveyor of energy through its triacylglycerol (TAG) core but contains some low-digestible bioactive complex lipids and proteins, which influence lipid metabolism and contribute to intestinal and systemic health.

Recent findings: MFG structure modulates gastrointestinal lipolysis, postprandial lipemia and even the postprandial fate of ingested fatty acids. Proof-of-concept of the nutritional programming induced by early consumption of an emulsion biomimetic of MFG compared with a typical infant formula was published in an animal model (mice). The metabolic response to a high-fat diet during adulthood was improved following neonatal exposure to the biomimetic emulsion.

Summary: MFG TAG are tailored with a unique regiodistribution delivering in priority short to medium-chain fatty acids in gastric phase, an important amount of quickly metabolizable oleic acid and protecting palmitic acid in sn-2 position. MFG digestion may not only trigger rapid TAG and chylomicron plasma peaks with fast clearance but also the luminal release of nonhydrolysable bioactive compounds (glycosylated compounds and sphingomyelin), which contribute to intestinal and systemic health by shaping the microbiota and modulating the immune system. These bioactive compounds form self-assembled structures, protect specific micronutrients and lower cholesterol absorption. The health benefits of MFG consumption or of some of its fractions (MFGM) under specific structures are steadily being demonstrated with still much unsolved questions especially for populations with high nutritional needs (e.g. elderly, infants).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestion
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Glycolipids / chemistry*
  • Glycolipids / metabolism*
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk / metabolism
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids
  • Glycolipids
  • Glycoproteins
  • Triglycerides
  • milk fat globule