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Biologically active breast milk proteins in association with very preterm delivery and stage of lactation



The aim of this study was to identify the independent effect of very preterm gestation on breast milk content of biologically active proteins (secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), lysozyme, lactoferrin, osteoprotegerin (OPG), leptin, adiponectin and β-endorphin (b-EP)) during the first month of lactation.

Study Design:

We collected samples of transitional (6 to 8 and 13 to 15 days) and mature (20 to 22 and 27 to 29 days) milk from mothers after term (38 to 41 weeks) or very preterm (24 to 31 weeks) delivery. The levels of sIgA, lysozyme, lactoferrin, OPG, leptin, adiponectin and b-EP in the breast milk were quantified using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or enzyme immunoassay kits. Statistical analysis included descriptive statistics and regression analysis.


Sixty breast milk samples were collected from 15 mothers after very preterm (preterm breast milk, PBM) and 20 samples from 5 mothers after term (term breast milk, TBM) deliveries. Decrease in lysozyme, lactoferrin, OPG, leptin, adiponectin and b-EP but no change in sIgA was recorded during the first month of lactation in both TBM and PBM. The IgA, lysozyme and adiponectin were higher in PBM than in TBM, whereas concentrations of lactoferrin, OPG and leptin were higher in TBM than in PBM (P<0.05 to 0.0001). A similar pattern was seen in the lysozyme, leptin and adiponectin concentration in mature milk. Increased b-EP levels in breast milk were associated with the vaginal mode of delivery but not gestational age.


Although a similar pattern of change was observed in the breast milk bioactive proteins during the first month of lactation after term and very preterm gestation, PBM is a better source of factors with antibacterial/anti-inflammatory activities but is constantly deficient in leptin, which is involved in neuroendocrine regulation.

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We thank Nitin Goyal, Uday Nadgir and Zindadil Gandhi for running the ELISAs and EIAs. We also express our most sincere appreciation for the benevolent mothers for their participation and commitment to this research project.

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Correspondence to A Petrova.

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Mehta, R., Petrova, A. Biologically active breast milk proteins in association with very preterm delivery and stage of lactation. J Perinatol 31, 58–62 (2011).

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  • breast milk
  • bioactive proteins
  • preterm gestation

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