Immune modulation in suckling rat pups by a growth factor extract derived from milk whey

Irmeli A. Penttila, Min F. Zhang, Edna Bates, Geoffrey Regester, Leanna C. Read, Heddy Zola

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Oral tolerance to foreign enteral antigens is not fully developed in early neonatal life. Epidemiological evidence supports a role for maternal milk in the development of immune responses, including oral tolerance. Formula fed infants have an increased susceptibility to food allergy and the later development of autoimmune disease. This may relate to the lack in infant formula of growth factors found in maternal milk. Bovine milk contains proteins, growth factors and cytokines. Various studies have outlined the immune modulating potential of bovine milk-derived products. Fractionated whey extracts have therapeutic potential in disease states where there is an excessive inflammatory reaction, and disease preventive potential for infants who are not breast-fed. We have shown that daily oral administration of a growth factor enriched fraction from milk whey to naturally suckling rat pups between days 4-9 postnatal can down-regulate immune activation to a specific orally administered food antigen, ovalbumin, assessed by lymphocyte proliferation. In addition, non-specific down-regulation in the intestine was observed as assessed by the expression of MHC I. Treatment of rat pups with whey extract at the time of oral sensitisation to ovalbumin also resulted in an increased secretion of TGF-β into the culture supernatant of spleen cells incubated with specific antigen. TGF-β is an immuno-down-regulatory cytokine involved in tolerance induction. Immune modulation by extracts derived from milk whey could be of potential benefit for formula-fed and pre-term infants in reducing susceptibility to inappropriate activation to food antigens.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-599
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Dairy Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Nov 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Immune-modulation
  • Infant
  • TGF-β
  • Whey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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