The human milk metabolome reveals diverse oligosaccharide profiles

Jennifer T. Smilowitz, Aifric O'Sullivan, Daniela Barile, J. Bruce German, Bo Lönnerdal, Carolyn M. Slupsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Breast milk delivers nutrition and protection to the developing infant. There has been considerable research on the highmolecular- weight milk components; however, low-molecular-weight metabolites have received less attention. To determine the effect of maternal phenotype and diet on the human milk metabolome, milk collected at day 90 postpartum from 52 healthy women was analyzed by using proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Sixty-five milk metabolites were quantified (mono-, di-, and oligosaccharides; amino acids and derivatives; energy metabolites; fatty acids and associated metabolites; vitamins, nucleotides, and derivatives; and others). The biological variation, represented as the percentage CV of each metabolite, varied widely (4-120%), with several metabolites having low variation (<20%), including lactose, urea, glutamate, myo-inositol, and creatinine. Principal components analysis identified 2 clear groups of participants who were differentiable on the basis of milk oligosaccharide concentration and who were classified as secretors or nonsecretors of fucosyltransferase 2 (FUT2) gene products according to the concentration of 2#-fucosyllactose, lactodifucotetraose, and lacto-N-fucopentaose I. Exploration of the interrelations between the milk sugars by using Spearman rank correlations revealed significant positive and negative associations, including positive correlations between fucose and products of the FUT2 gene and negative correlations between fucose and products of the fucosyltransferase 3 (FUT3) gene. The total concentration of milk oligosaccharides was conserved among participants (%CV = 18%), suggesting tight regulation of total oligosaccharide production; however, concentrations of specific oligosaccharides varied widely between participants (%CV = 30.4-84.3%). The variability in certain milk metabolites suggests possible roles in infant or infant gut microbial development. This trial was registered at as NCT01817127. 2013.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1709-1718
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Medicine(all)


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