Human Milk Components Modulate Toll-Like Receptor-Mediated Inflammation

Adv Nutr. 2016 Jan 15;7(1):102-11. doi: 10.3945/an.115.010090. Print 2016 Jan.


Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling is central to innate immunity. Aberrant expression of TLRs is found in neonatal inflammatory diseases. Several bioactive components of human milk modulate TLR expression and signaling pathways, including soluble toll-like receptors (sTLRs), soluble cluster of differentiation (sCD) 14, glycoproteins, small peptides, and oligosaccharides. Some milk components, such as sialyl (α2,3) lactose and lacto-N-fucopentaose III, are reported to increase TLR signaling; under some circumstances this might contribute toward immunologic balance. Human milk on the whole is strongly anti-inflammatory, and contains abundant components that depress TLR signaling pathways: sTLR2 and sCD14 inhibit TLR2 signaling; sCD14, lactadherin, lactoferrin, and 2'-fucosyllactose attenuate TLR4 signaling; 3'-galactosyllactose inhibits TLR3 signaling, and β-defensin 2 inhibits TLR7 signaling. Feeding human milk to neonates decreases their risk of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis. Thus, the TLR regulatory components found in human milk hold promise as benign oral prophylactic and therapeutic treatments for the many gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders mediated by abnormal TLR signaling.

Keywords: glycans; human milk; immune function; inflammation; toll like receptors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inflammation / diet therapy*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Sepsis / prevention & control
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism*


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Toll-Like Receptors