Breast milk contains several macromolecular components with distinctive functions, whereby milk fat globules and casein micelles mainly provide nutrition to the newborn, and whey contains molecules that can stimulate the newborn's developing immune system and gastrointestinal tract. Although extracellular vesicles (EV) have been identified in breast milk, their physiological function and composition has not been addressed in detail. EV are submicron sized vehicles released by cells for intercellular communication via selectively incorporated lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins. Because of the difficulty in separating EV from other milk components, an in-depth analysis of the proteome of human milk-derived EV is lacking. In this study, an extensive LC-MS/MS proteomic analysis was performed of EV that had been purified from breast milk of seven individual donors using a recently established, optimized density-gradient-based EV isolation protocol. A total of 1963 proteins were identified in milk-derived EV, including EV-associated proteins like CD9, Annexin A5, and Flotillin-1, with a remarkable overlap between the different donors. Interestingly, 198 of the identified proteins are not present in the human EV database Vesiclepedia, indicating that milk-derived EV harbor proteins not yet identified in EV of different origin. Similarly, the proteome of milk-derived EV was compared with that of other milk components. For this, data from 38 published milk proteomic studies were combined in order to construct the total milk proteome, which consists of 2698 unique proteins. Remarkably, 633 proteins identified in milk-derived EV have not yet been identified in human milk to date. Interestingly, these novel proteins include proteins involved in regulation of cell growth and controlling inflammatory signaling pathways, suggesting that milk-derived EVs could support the newborn's developing gastrointestinal tract and immune system. Overall, this study provides an expansion of the whole milk proteome and illustrates that milk-derived EV are macromolecular components with a unique functional proteome.
© 2016 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.