Human donor milk (HDM) provides appropriate nutrition and offers protective functions in preterm infants. The aim of the study is to examine the impact of different storage conditions on the stability of the human breast milk peptidome. HDM was directly frozen at -80 °C or stored at -20 °C (120 h), 4 °C (6 h), or room temperature (RT for 6 or 24 h). The milk peptidome was profiled by mass spectrometry after peptide collection by ultrafiltration. Profiling of the peptidome covered 3587 peptides corresponding to 212 proteins. The variance of the peptidome increased with storage temperature and time and varied for different peptides. The highest impact was observed when samples were stored at RT. Smaller but significant effects were still observed in samples stored at 4 °C, while samples showed highest similarity to those immediately frozen at -80 °C when stored at -20 °C. Peptide structures after storage at RT for 24 h point to the increased activity of thrombin and other proteases cleaving proteins at lysine/arginine. The results point to an ongoing protein degradation/peptide production by milk-derived proteases. They underline the need for immediate freezing of HDM at -20 °C or -80 °C to prevent degradation of peptides and enable reproducible investigation of prospectively collected samples.
Keywords: LC-MS/MS; human breast milk; peptidome; storage conditions; temperature.