Effects of pasteurization on osteopontin concentrations in human breastmilk

Pediatr Res. 2024 Feb;95(3):641-646. doi: 10.1038/s41390-023-02838-1. Epub 2023 Oct 13.


Background: Osteopontin (OPN) is an important breastmilk protein involved in infant intestinal, immunological, and brain development. However, little is known about how common milk pasteurization and storage techniques affect this important bioactive protein.

Methods: Human milk osteopontin concentration was measured in single-donor fresh (n = 1) or frozen (n = 20) breastmilk, pooled Holder-pasteurized donor breastmilk (n = 11), and a shelf-stable (retort pasteurized) breastmilk product (n = 2) by ELISA. Single-donor breastmilk samples were subjected to pasteurization and/or freezing before measuring osteopontin concentrations.

Results: Holder pasteurization of breastmilk resulted in an ∼50% decrease in osteopontin concentration within single-donor samples. Breastmilk from mothers of preterm infants trended toward higher osteopontin concentration than mothers of term infants; however, samples from preterm mothers experienced greater osteopontin degradation upon pasteurization. A commercial breastmilk product that underwent retort pasteurization had lower osteopontin concentration than a Holder-pasteurized pooled breastmilk product. Finally, freezing breastmilk prior to Holder pasteurization resulted in less osteopontin degradation than Holder pasteurization prior to freezing.

Conclusions: Commonly used breastmilk pasteurization and storage techniques, including freezing and Holder pasteurization, decrease the concentration of the bioactive protein osteopontin in human breastmilk. Holder pasteurization reduced osteopontin concentration by an average of 63%, while freezing resulted in an 8-12% decrease.

Impact: Pasteurization of human breastmilk significantly decreases the concentration of the bioactive protein osteopontin. Use of both pasteurization and freezing techniques for breastmilk preservation results in greater loss of osteopontin. This study presents for the first time an analysis of osteopontin concentrations in single-donor pasteurized milk samples.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Milk, Human*
  • Osteopontin
  • Pasteurization / methods


  • Osteopontin