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Papers And Originals

Iron-binding Proteins in Milk and Resistance to Escherichia coli Infection in Infants

Br Med J 1972; 1 doi: (Published 08 January 1972) Cite this as: Br Med J 1972;1:69
  1. J. J. Bullen,
  2. Henry J. Rogers,
  3. L. Leigh


    Human milk contains large quantities of iron-binding protein, of which the greater proportion is lactoferrin, though small amounts of transferrin are also present. Three samples of human milk with unsaturated iron-binding capacities of between 56 and 89% had a powerful bacteriostatic effect on Escherichia coli O111/B4. The bacteriostatic properties of milk were abolished if the iron-binding proteins were saturated with iron. Purified human lactoferrin, in combination with specific E. coli antibody, strongly inhibited the growth of E. coli, and this effect was also abolished by saturating the lactoferrin with iron.

    Guinea-pig milk also contains lactoferrin and transferrin. Newly born guinea-pigs fed on an artificial diet and dosed with E. coli O111 had higher counts of E. coli O111 in the intestine than suckled animals. The apparent suppressive effect of guinea-pig milk on E. coli in the intestine could be reversed by feeding the iron compound haematin. It seems that iron-binding proteins in milk may play an important part in resistance to infantile enteritis caused by E. coli.