Untangling human milk oligosaccharides and infant gut microbiome

iScience. 2021 Dec 1;25(1):103542. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.103542. eCollection 2022 Jan 21.


The developing gut microbiome in infancy plays a key role in shaping the host immune system and metabolic state, and human milk is the main factor influencing its composition. Human milk does not only serve to feed the baby, but also to help the new-born adapt to its new environment and microbial exposures. Human milk protects the infant by providing multiple bioactive molecules, including human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are the third most abundant solid component after lipids and lactose. The infant is unable to digest HMOs, so they reach the small and large intestines intact where they have many roles, including acting as prebiotics. Bifidobacterium spp. are the main, but not the only, commensals equipped with genes for HMO degradation. In this review we will outline the HMOs structures and functions, list the genes needed for their digestion, and describe the main strategies adopted by bacteria for their utilization.

Keywords: Microbiology; Microbiome; Nutrition.

Publication types

  • Review