Background: Secretion of dietary antigens into breast milk has been extensively documented. The presence of these antigens is of relevance because they could be involved in the modulation of the immune response in neonates. The objective of this study is to determine the gliadin concentration in milk, colostrum, and serum samples from healthy lactating mothers on a normal diet. Gliadin levels in milk samples from a group of six mothers after a brief period of gluten restriction were also determined. The molecular weight of secreted gliadins was also analysed.
Methods: Gliadin concentration was determined with a highly sensitive competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, modified so as to eliminate anti-gliadin antibody interference. The level of gliadin/IgA anti-gliadin immune complexes in milk, colostrum, and serum samples was determined.
Results: Gliadin was detected in all 49 milk samples. Its concentration varied between 5 and 1200 ng/ml (mean, 178 ng/ml). In colostrum (n = 14) gliadin levels were higher (range, 28-9000 ng/ml; mean, 883 ng/ml), not being detectable in one case. Gliadin was detectable in 14 of 31 serum samples, in which levels were lower than in milk and colostrum samples (mean, 41 ng/ml). Neither a correlation between gliadin levels in milk, colostrum, and serum samples from the same subject nor a relation between gluten intake and gliadin concentration in milk samples from six subjects under a 3-day gluten-free diet could be found. Higher levels of immune complexes were observed in colostrum samples than in milk and serum samples. No correlation was detected between gliadin concentration and the level of immune complexes. The analysis of milk and colostrum samples by immunoblotting showed bands of immunoreactive gliadin presenting Mr similar to those of native proteins from wheat extracts.
Conclusions: Very high levels of gliadin were detected in milk samples from healthy mothers on an unrestricted diet. Gliadin levels were higher than those reported for dietary antigens in other studies. Breast milk contained non-degraded gliadins and gliadin/anti-gliadin IgA immune complexes.