Over the course of milk digestion, native milk proteases and infant digestive proteases fragment intact proteins into peptides with potential bioactivity. This study investigated the release of peptides over 3 h of gastric digestion in 14 preterm infant sample sets. The peptide content was extracted and analyzed from milk and gastric samples via Orbitrap tandem mass spectrometry. The relative ion intensity (abundance) and count of peptides in each sample were compared over time and between infants fed milk fortified with bovine milk fortifier and infants fed unfortified milk. Bioactivity of the identified peptides was predicted by sequence homology to known bioactive milk peptides. Both total and bioactive peptide abundance and count continuously increased over 3 h of gastric digestion. After accounting for infant weight, length, and postconceptual age, fortification of milk limited the release of peptides from human milk proteins. Peptides that survived further gastric digestion after their initial release were structurally more similar to bioactive peptides than nonsurviving peptides. This work is the first to provide a comprehensive profile of milk peptides released during gastric digestion over time, which is an essential step in determining which peptides are most likely to be biologically relevant in the infant. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD012192.
- Human milk
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