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Nature: Breast milk protects newborns from infection. Secret is microorganisms!

Abstract: Breastfeeding has long been highly regarded, because in addition to providing the necessary nutrition, breastfeeding can protect babies from certain infections. Harvard Medical School's latest research published in Nature has shown that this protection comes at least in part from microbes in the maternal intestine. Antibodies produced by this particular microbe are passed to the offspring through milk and placenta to protect newborn individuals from E. coli infection.


Infectious diarrhea (usually caused by E. coli or rotavirus) is the leading cause of malnutrition and the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 5 worldwide. In the absence of any microbial contact, the immune system of the newborn is blank. In the first three weeks, the immune protection of the newborn is completely derived from maternal antibodies, which pass through the placenta during pregnancy, through the birth canal during delivery, and soon after delivery Breast milk is passed to the fetus.


Researchers have also identified Pantoea, a specific microorganism that induces the formation of protective antibodies. It belongs to the family of Enterobacteriaceae and is found in the intestines of mice and other mammals, including humans. In addition, experiments show that antibodies enter the intestinal tract and blood of newborn mice through Fc receptors. Fc receptors are a molecular channel on the placenta. They can not only transfer antibodies through the placenta, but also absorb antibodies derived from breast milk. It is transferred from the intestine to the blood of newborn mice, ensuring wider systemic protection outside the intestine, and this newborn receptor loses function with age.

The results of this study help explain why newborns have an underdeveloped immune system and have not been exposed to certain pathogenic microorganisms, but they are protected from these microorganisms. These findings will provide the basis for designing microbial therapies for E. coli or other pathogenic microbial infections.


Reference: Zheng, W., Zhao, W., Wu, M. et al. Microbiota-targeted maternal antibodies protect neonates from enteric infection. Nature (2020) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1898-4 

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Souce: NovoPro    2020-01-13