Allergen Content and Protease Activity in Milk Feeds from Mothers of Preterm Infants

Breastfeed Med. 2022 Nov;17(11):947-957. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2022.0115. Epub 2022 Oct 12.


Rationale: There is little information regarding the allergen content of milk feeds in the preterm population. Previous studies have not performed a broad analysis of the allergenic peptide content and protease activity of milk feeds in this population. Methods: To evaluate feasibility, we initially performed mass spectrometry on 4 human milk (HM) samples (2 term and 2 preterm) from the Mommy's Milk Human Milk Biorepository (HMB) and analyzed the results against the University of Nebraska FASTA database and UniProt for a total of 2,211 protein sequences. We then further analyzed five samples from the Microbiome, Atopy, and Prematurity (MAP) study including peptidomic and protease activity analysis. Results: Each HMB sample had between 806 and 1,007 proteins, with 37-44 nonhuman proteins/sample encompassing 26 plant and animal species. In the preterm MAP samples, 784 digested nonhuman proteins were identified, 30 were nonbovine in origin. Proteins from 23 different species including aeroallergens, food, and contact allergens were identified. Protease activity was highest in HM samples without human milk fortifier and lowest in preterm formula. Conclusions: These findings represent the first preterm milk feed mass spectrometry and protease analysis with identification of known allergenic proteins to food, contact, and aeroallergens. These results raise questions of whether the composition of milk feeds in the neonatal intensive care unit impact the development of atopic disease in the preterm population and whether the complex interaction between allergens, proteases, and other HM components can serve to induce sensitization or tolerance to allergens in infants. Clinical Trial Registration Number: NCT04835935.

Keywords: allergy; human milk; peptidomics; preterm; proteomics.

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / analysis
  • Allergens / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Peptide Hydrolases / analysis
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism


  • Allergens
  • Peptide Hydrolases

Associated data