Human milk lactoferrin (hmLF) is the most abundant glycoprotein present in human milk and displays a broad range of protective functions in the gut of newborn infants. hmLF is N-glycosylated, but little is known about the lactation stage-related development of the glycosylation phenotype. hmLF glycosylation from milk samples from five donors during the first 10 weeks of lactation was assessed and observed to be more diverse than previously reported. During this period dynamic changes in glycosylation were observed corresponding to a decrease in glycosylation in the second week followed by an increase in total glycosylation as well as higher order fucosylation thereafter. Gene expression analysis was performed in milk somatic cells from a sixth subject. It was found that fucosyltransferase expression increased during entire period, whereas expression of genes for the oligosaccharyl transferase complex decreased in the second week. The effect of hmLF glycosylation was examined for the protein's ability to affect bacterial binding to epithelial cells. hmLF significantly inhibited pathogen adhesion and purified hmLF glycans significantly reduced Salmonella invasion of colonic epithelial cells to levels associated with non-invasive deletion mutants. This study indicates that hmLF glycosylation is tightly regulated by gene expression and that glyco-variation is involved in modulating pathogen association.
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