Analysis of milk from mothers who delivered prematurely reveals few changes in proteases and protease inhibitors across gestational age at birth and infant postnatal age

Veronique Demers-Mathieum, Søren Drud Nielsen, Mark Underwood, Robyn Borghese, David C. Dallas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Background: Peptidomics research has demonstrated that protease activity is higher in breast milk from pretermdelivering mothers than from term-delivering mothers. However, to our knowledge, the effect of the degree of prematurity and postnatal age on proteases and protease inhibitors in human milk remains unknown. Objective: We aimed to determine the change of proteases and protease inhibitors in milk from mothers who delivered prematurely across gestational age (GA) and postnatal age. Methods: Milk samples were collected from 18 mothers aged 26-40 y who delivered preterm infants and who lacked mastitis. For analysis, sampleswere separated into 2 groups: 9 from early GA (EGA) (24-26wk GA)-delivering mothers and 9 from late GA (LGA) (27-32 wk GA)-delivering mothers. Within the 9 samples in each group, the collection time ranged from postnatal days 2 to 47. The activity and predicted activity of proteases in preterm milk were determined with the use of fluorometric and spectrophotometric assays and peptidomics, respectively. Protease and protease inhibitor concentrations were determined with the use of ELISA. Linearmixed models were applied to compare enzymes across GA and postnatal age. Results: Carboxypeptidase B2, kallikrein, plasmin, elastase, thrombin, and cytosol aminopeptidase were present and active in the milk of preterm-delivering mothers. Most milk protease and antiprotease concentrations did not change with GA or postnatal age. However, the concentration and activity of kallikrein, the most abundant and active protease in preterm milk, increased by 25.4 ng · mL-1 · d-1 and 0.454 μg · mL-1 · d-1 postnatally, respectively, in EGA milk samples while remaining stable in LGA milk samples. Conclusions: This research demonstrates that proteases are active in human milk and begin to degrade milk protein within the mammary gland before consumption by infants. Proteases and protease inhibitors in milk from mothers of premature infants mostly did not vary substantially across GA and postnatal age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1152-1159
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017



  • Antithrombin III
  • Carboxypeptidase B2
  • Cathepsin D
  • Cytosol aminopeptidase
  • Elastase
  • Plasmin
  • Thrombin
  • α-antichymotrypsin
  • α-antitrypsin
  • α-antiplasmin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

Cite this