Mammary fluids, colostrum and milk, deliver natures first host defense systems upon birth, and these essential liquids are critical for survival of the neonate. The identification and characterization of anti-infectious proteins were among the early scientific discoveries and this group of proteins has long been recognized for promoting health benefits in both newborns and adults. Among the more widely studied are the immunoglobulins, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, and lactoferrin. Recently, it was shown that α-lactalbumin may also function in a protective capacity dependent upon its folding state. Some of these, especially lactoferrin, also display an immunomodulatory role in which case a totally separate cascade of host defense responses is initiated. It was noted that the mechanism of action for this cluster of sentry proteins does vary; thus, this protective strategy provides for a broad range of responsive reactions to infection. Presently, there is a major focus on the discovery of novel peptides that can be generated from existing milk proteins via proteolytic reactions. To date, this substrate list includes α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, all casein fractions, and lactoferrin. Again, the immunoregulatory effects prompted as a result of the appearance of these peptides are currently being defined. Herein, we review the principal biological properties associated with each of these contributing milk components with a special emphasis on the role of biodefensive milk peptides. We envision future contributions emerging from this research field as an opportunity to develop effective new therapies to be used in treating infectious diseases and promoting health benefits in vivo.
immunoglobulins, lactoperoxidase, a-lactalbumin, b-lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, antimicrobial milk proteins, immunoregulatory milk peptides
218-E Schaub Hall, Dept. ofFood Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. 27695-7624;USA.