Breastfeeding is known as the most efficient way to prevent infectious disease in early life. Maternal anti-microbial immunoglobulins transfer through milk confers passive immunity to the breastfed child while his immune system is maturing. Maternal milk also contains bioactive factors that will stimulate this maturation. From the literature on breastfeeding prevention of immune-mediated disease and more specifically from our experiments conducted in the field of allergic disease prevention, we propose that breastfeeding may also induce antigen-specific immune responses in the breastfed child. We found that early oral antigen exposure through breast milk leads to tolerance or immune priming depending on the nature of the antigen transferred and accompanying maternal milk cofactors. Here, we will discuss our data in the light of prevention of infectious disease and will propose that possible milk transfer of microbial antigen could affect actively the immune response in breastfed children and thereby their long-term susceptibility to infectious disease. Further research in this direction may lead to novel strategies of early life vaccination, taking advantage of the possibility to stimulate antigen-specific immune responses through breast milk.
Keywords: breastfeeding; neonate immunity; tolerance; vaccine.
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.