Role of milk whey in the transmission of human cytomegalovirus infection by breast milk

Microbiol Immunol. 1996;40(3):201-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1348-0421.1996.tb03335.x.


Breast-fed infants are susceptible to human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection via breast milk. In our previous study, HCMV was isolated more frequently from breast milk at later than one month after delivery than from colostrum or early breast milk. To clarify the role of milk cells and whey in vertical infection by breast feeding, we separated breast milk into milk cells and whey and examined each fraction for the presence of HCMV. We collected breast milk from mothers who breast-fed their infants (aged from 3 days to 2 months). The breast milk was centrifuged and separated into the middle layer (layer of milk whey) and the pellet (containing milk cells). We attempted to isolate HCMV from whey and to detect HCMV immediate early (IE) DNA in both milk whey and cells. HCMV was isolated from 7 out of 35 (20.0%) whey samples and HCMV IE DNA was detected from 15 out of 35 (42.9%) whey and/or milk cells. Detection rates of HCMV IE DNA in the whey layer and milk cells were 39.1% (25 out of 64) and 17.2% (11 out of 64), respectively. HCMV IE DNA was not detected in colostrum, but was detected in breast milk samples one month after delivery. Therefore, cell-free HCMV shed into milk whey may have a more important role in vertical infection by breast milk than cell-associated HCMV in the milk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics
  • Cytomegalovirus / isolation & purification
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / transmission*
  • DNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Genes, Immediate-Early
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Milk Proteins*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / cytology
  • Milk, Human / virology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • DNA, Viral
  • Milk Proteins