Choline and choline esters in human and rat milk and in infant formulas

Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Oct;64(4):572-6. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/64.4.572.


Large amounts of choline are required in neonates for rapid organ growth and membrane biosynthesis. Human infants derive much of their choline from milk. In our study, mature human milk contained more phosphocholine and glycerophosphocholine than choline, phosphatidylcholine, or sphingomyelin (P < 0.01). Previous studies have not recognized that phosphocholine and glycerophosphocholine exist in human milk. Concentrations of choline compounds in mature milk of mothers giving birth to preterm or full-term infants were not significantly different. Infant formulas also contained choline and choline-containing compounds. In infant formulas derived from soy or bovine milk, unesterified choline, phosphocholine, glycerophosphocholine, phosphatidylcholine, and sphingomyelin concentrations varied greatly. All infant formulas contained significantly less phosphocholine than did human milk. Soy-derived formulas contained significantly less glycerophosphocholine (P < 0.01) and phosphocholine (P < 0.01) and more phosphatidylcholine (P < 0.01) than did human or bovine milk or bovine milk-derived infant formulas. Rat milk contained greater amounts of glycerophosphocholine (almost 75% of the total choline moiety in milk) and phosphocholine than did human milk. When dams were provided with either a control, choline-deficient, or choline-supplemented diet, milk composition reflected the choline content of the diet. Because there are competing demands for choline in neonates, it is important to ensure adequate availability through proper infant nutrition. Although the free choline moiety is adequately provided by infant formulas and bovine milk, reevaluation of the concentrations of other choline esters, in particular glycerophosphocholine and phosphocholine, may be warranted.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Choline / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Female
  • Glycerylphosphorylcholine / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Infant Food / analysis*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / analysis*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Species Specificity


  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Glycerylphosphorylcholine
  • Choline