Biology of human milk oligosaccharides: From basic science to clinical evidence

J Hum Nutr Diet. 2022 Apr;35(2):280-299. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12990. Epub 2022 Feb 2.


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) have been researched by scientists for over 100 years, driven by the substantial evidence for the nutritional and health benefits of mother's milk. Yet research has truly bloomed during the last decade, thanks to progress in biotechnology, which has allowed the production of large amounts of bona fide HMOs. The availability of HMOs has been particularly crucial for the renewed interest in HMO research because of the low abundance or even absence of HMOs in farmed animal milk. This interest is reflected in the increasing number of original research publications and reviews on HMOs. Here, we provide an overview and critical discussion on structure-function relations of HMOs that highlight why they are such interesting and important components of human milk. Clinical observations in breastfed infants backed by basic research from animal models provide guidance as to what physiological roles for HMOs are to be expected. From an evidence-based nutrition viewpoint, we discuss the current data supporting the clinical relevance of specific HMOs based on randomised placebo-controlled clinical intervention trials in formula-fed infants.

Keywords: animal milk; development; growth; human milk; immunity; infections; microbiota.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biology
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Milk, Human*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Oligosaccharides*


  • Oligosaccharides