MicroRNAs: Milk's epigenetic regulators

Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Aug;31(4):427-442. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2017.10.003. Epub 2017 Oct 20.


Our perception of milk has changed from a "simple food" to a highly sophisticated maternal-neonatal nutrient and communication system orchestrating early programming of the infant. Milk miRNAs delivered by exosomes and milk fat globules derived from mammary gland epithelial cells play a key role in this process. Exosomes resist the harsh intestinal environment, are taken up by intestinal cells via endocytosis, and reach the systemic circulation of the milk recipient. The most abundant miRNA found in exosomes and milk fat globules of human and cow's milk, miRNA-148a, attenuates the expression of DNA methyltransferase 1, which is critically involved in epigenetic regulation. Another important miRNA of milk, miRNA-125b, targets p53, the guardian of the genome, and its diverse transcriptional network. The deficiency of exosomal miRNAs in infant formula and the persistent uptake of milk miRNAs after the nursing period via consumption of cow's milk are two epigenetic aberrations that may induce adverse long-term effects on human health.

Keywords: DNA methyltransferase 1; epigenetic regulation; formula; miRNA-148a; milk; p53.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Exosomes / genetics
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / metabolism*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / physiology*
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • Mother-Child Relations


  • MicroRNAs