Objective Infants are born immunologically immature. However, breastfeeding mothers retain an immunological link to their infants. While it is generally accepted that infants are at an immunological advantage when compared with formula-fed infants, the benefit of long-term exclusive breastfeeding by atopic mothers remains controversial. Inconsistency in the conferral of benefit may be due to differences in the immunological constituents passed to the recipient infant. The aim of this investigation was to examine the profile of human milk cells and cytokines from asthmatic compared to non-asthmatic mothers. Methods Twenty-five exclusively breastfeeding mothers with a clinical diagnosis of asthma were postpartum age matched in a double-control 2:1 design with 50 non-asthmatic controls. Each mother provided a single milk sample which was assayed for cell differential by flow cytometry, for ex vivo cytokine production in culture and for aqueous phase cytokines. Results Milks from asthmatic mothers differed from non-asthmatics in that they contained a higher proportion of polymorphonuclear (PMN) cells and lower proportion of lymphocytes, predominantly CD3+/CD4+ T helper cells, reflected by a decrease in the chemokine CCL5 in the milk aqueous phase. More PMN and lymphocytes from asthmatic mothers expressed the adhesion molecule CD11b and lymphocytes the IgE receptor CD23, than those from non-asthmatic mothers. Conclusions Changes to human milk leucocyte prevalence, activation state and cytokines due to maternal asthma may result in changes to immunological priming in the infant. Consequently, the protective effect of long-term breastfeeding may be altered in these mother-infant pairs.
- Human milk
- Polymorphonuclear cells