Metabolomic Approaches to Explore Chemical Diversity of Human Breast-Milk, Formula Milk and Bovine Milk

Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Dec 17;17(12):2128. doi: 10.3390/ijms17122128.


Although many studies have been conducted on the components present in human breast milk (HM), research on the differences of chemical metabolites between HM, bovine milk (BM) and formula milk (FM) is limited. This study was to explore the chemical diversity of HM, BM and FM by metabolomic approaches. GC-TOFMS and UPLC-QTOFMS were applied to investigate the metabolic compositions in 30 HM samples, 20 FM samples and 20 BM samples. Metabolite profiling identified that most of the non-esterified fatty acids, which reflected the hydrolysis of triglycerides, were much more abundant in HM than those in FM and BM, except for palmitic acid and stearic acid. The levels of tricarboxylic acid (TCA) intermediates were much higher in FM and BM than those in HM. Each type of milk also showed its unique composition of free amino acids and free carbohydrates. In conclusion, higher levels of non-esterified saturated fatty acids with aliphatic tails <16 carbons, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids and lower levels of TCA intermediates are characteristic of HM, as compared with FM and BM. The content of non-esterified fatty acids may reflect the hydrolysis of triglycerides in different milk types.

Keywords: GC-TOFMS; UPLC-QTOFMS; amino acids; carbohydrate; fatty acids; metabolomics; tricarboxylic acid intermediates.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / analysis*
  • Carbohydrates / analysis*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / analysis*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Infant Formula / chemistry*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Metabolomics
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Triglycerides / analysis*


  • Amino Acids
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Triglycerides