Lactoferrin: A Critical Player in Neonatal Host Defense

Nutrients. 2018 Sep 4;10(9):1228. doi: 10.3390/nu10091228.


Newborn infants are at a high risk for infection due to an under-developed immune system, and human milk has been shown to exhibit substantial anti-infective properties that serve to bolster neonatal defenses against multiple infections. Lactoferrin is the dominant whey protein in human milk and has been demonstrated to perform a wide array of antimicrobial and immunomodulatory functions and play a critical role in protecting the newborn infant from infection. This review summarizes data describing the structure and important functions performed by lactoferrin in protecting the neonate from infection and contributing to the maturation of the newborn innate and adaptive immune systems. We also briefly discuss clinical trials examining the utility of lactoferrin supplementation in the prevention of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in newborn infants. The data reviewed provide rationale for the continuation of studies to examine the effects of lactoferrin administration on the prevention of sepsis in the neonate.

Keywords: human milk; immunity; infection; lactoferrin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / immunology
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / immunology
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / prevention & control
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / growth & development
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / chemistry*
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / immunology
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control
  • Lactoferrin / immunology
  • Lactoferrin / pharmacology*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Milk, Human / immunology
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Sepsis / prevention & control


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Lactoferrin