Effect of suboptimal nutrition during lactation on milk protein gene expression in the rat

Ana Claudia Zubieta, Bo Lönnerdal

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5 Scopus citations


Human milk provides infants with proteins that aid in the prevention of infections and facilitate the digestion and absorption of other nutrients. Maternal diet is not believed to affect the protein concentration of breast milk. However, the maternal factors that regulate the expression of genes for specific milk proteins are not well characterized. We hypothesized that nutrition could be one of the factors. We fed Sprague-Dawley rats five diets representing common nutrient deficiencies and energy deficiency during pregnancy and lactation: low-zinc (Zn; 7 μg/g), low-iron (Fe; 6 μg/g), low-protein (12.5% albumin), pair-fed control diet (lactation only, 20% less kcal) and control diet (Zn, 25 μg/g; Fe, 100 μg/g; protein, 21%) ad libitum. At day 10 of lactation, the mammary gland was removed for RNA extraction. Northern blots of mRNA from the different groups were performed by hybridization with β-casein and whey acidic protein (WAP) cDNA probes. The expression of β-casein mRNA in rat mammary gland was significantly (P<.005) increased in the pair-fed group when compared to the control group. The expression of WAP mRNA was also significantly (P<.005) increased in the pair-fed group as well as in the low-Fe group when compared to the control group. The concentration of β-casein in milk was significantly higher for the low-zinc and the pair-fed groups only. The concentration of WAP in milk was not different among groups. These results suggest that compromised maternal nutrition can affect the expression of two individual milk proteins and may have functional implications with regard to bioactive proteins in milk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-610
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutritional Biochemistry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006



  • β-Casein
  • Gene expression
  • Lactation
  • Suboptimal nutrition
  • Whey acidic protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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