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The role and potential of sialic acid in human nutrition

Abstract

Sialic acids are a family of nine-carbon acidic monosaccharides that occur naturally at the end of sugar chains attached to the surfaces of cells and soluble proteins. In the human body, the highest concentration of sialic acid (as N-acetylneuraminic acid) occurs in the brain where it participates as an integral part of ganglioside structure in synaptogenesis and neural transmission. Human milk also contains a high concentration of sialic acid attached to the terminal end of free oligosaccharides, but its metabolic fate and biological role are currently unknown. An important question is whether the sialic acid in human milk is a conditional nutrient and confers developmental advantages on breast-fed infants compared to those fed infant formula. In this review, we critically discuss the current state of knowledge of the biology and role of sialic acid in human milk and nervous tissue, and the link between sialic acid, breastfeeding and learning behaviour.

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Wang, B., Brand-Miller, J. The role and potential of sialic acid in human nutrition. Eur J Clin Nutr 57, 1351–1369 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601704

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Keywords

  • sialic acid
  • ganglioside
  • sialyl-oligosaccharides
  • human milk
  • infant formula
  • breastfeeding

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