Lactoferrin (Lf) is a glycoprotein of the primary innate immune-defense system of mammals present in milk and other mucosal secretions. This protein of the transferrin family has broad antimicrobial properties by depriving pathogens from iron, or disrupting their plasma membranes through its highly cationic charge. Noteworthy, Lf also exhibits immunomodulatory activities performing up- and down-regulation of innate and adaptive immune cells, contributing to the homeostasis in mucosal surfaces exposed to myriad of microbial agents, such as the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. Although the inflammatory process is essential for the control of invasive infectious agents, the development of an exacerbated or chronic inflammation results in tissue damage with life-threatening consequences. In this review, we highlight recent findings in in vitro and in vivo models of the gut, lung, oral cavity, mammary gland, and liver infections that provide experimental evidence supporting the therapeutic role of human and bovine Lf in promoting some parameters of inflammation and protecting against the deleterious effects of bacterial, viral, fungal and protozoan-associated inflammation. Thus, this new knowledge of Lf immunomodulation paves the way to more effective design of treatments that include native or synthetic Lf derivatives, which may be useful to reduce immune-mediated tissue damage in infectious diseases.
Keywords: infections; inflammation; innate immunity; lactoferrin.