Protection of the Neonate by the Innate Immune System of Developing Gut and of Human Milk

Newburg, DS.; Walker, WA.
Pediatr Res 61: 2–8, 2007


The neonatal adaptive immune system, relatively naïve to foreign antigens, requires synergy with the innate immune system to protect the intestine. Goblet cells provide mucins, Paneth cells produce antimicrobial peptides, and dendritic cells (DCs) present luminal antigens. Intracellular signaling by Toll-like receptors (TLRs) elicits chemokines and cytokines that modulate inflammation. Enteric neurons and lymphocytes provide paracrine and endocrine signaling. However, full protection requires human milk. Breast-feeding reduces enteric infection and may reduce chronic disease in later life. Although human milk contains significant secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), most of its protective factors are constitutively expressed. Multifunctional milk components are nutrients whose partial digestion products inhibit pathogens. Cytokines, cytokine receptors, TLR agonists and antagonists, hormones, anti-inflammatory agents, and nucleotides in milk modulate inflammation.

Human milk is rich in glycans (complex carbohydrates): As prebiotics, indigestible glycans stimulate colonization by probiotic organisms, modulating mucosal immunity and protecting against pathogens. Through structural homology to intestinal cell surface receptors, glycans inhibit pathogen binding, the essential first step of pathogenesis. Bioactive milk components comprise an innate immune system of human milk whereby the mother protects her nursing infant. Interactions between human milk glycans, intestinal microflora, and intestinal mucosa surface glycans underlie ontogeny of innate mucosal immunity, pathobiology of enteric infection, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

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