Selective functional antibody transfer into the breastmilk after SARS-CoV-2 infection

Cell Rep. 2021 Nov 9;37(6):109959. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109959. Epub 2021 Oct 22.


Antibody transfer via breastmilk represents an evolutionary strategy to boost immunity in early life. Although severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-specific antibodies have been observed in the breastmilk, the functional quality of these antibodies remains unclear. Here, we apply systems serology to characterize SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in maternal serum and breastmilk to compare the functional characteristics of antibodies in these fluids. Distinct SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody responses are observed in the serum and breastmilk of lactating individuals previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, with a more dominant transfer of immunoglobulin A (IgA) and IgM into breastmilk. Although IgGs are present in breastmilk, they are functionally attenuated. We observe preferential transfer of antibodies capable of eliciting neutrophil phagocytosis and neutralization compared to other functions, pointing to selective transfer of certain functional antibodies to breastmilk. These data highlight the preferential transfer of SARS-CoV-2-specific IgA and IgM to breastmilk, accompanied by select IgG subpopulations, positioned to create a non-pathologic but protective barrier against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Keywords: COVID-19; Fc-receptor; SARS-CoV-2; antibody transfer; breastmilk; neutralization; neutrophils; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology*
  • Antibody Formation / immunology
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes / immunology
  • Lactation / immunology
  • Milk, Human / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus