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Breast Milk Molecule Gives Mom's Immunity to Baby

Antibody pathway to mammary glands channels protection against intestinal bugs, study says

FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A molecule called CCR10 plays an important role in a mother's ability to pass along immunity to intestinal infections to her baby through breast-feeding, according to a U.S. study involving mice.

The team from Brigham Young, Harvard and Stanford universities found that normal lactating mice had hundreds of thousands of antibody-producing cells in their mammary glands, while mice without CCR10 had 70 times fewer such cells. The absence of CCR10 was the reason for that deficiency.

The study was published in the Nov. 1 issue of The Journal of Immunology.

"Everybody hears that breast-feeding is good for the baby," study author Eric Wilson, an assistant professor of microbiology at Brigham Young, said in a university news release. "But why is it good? One of the reasons is that mothers' milk carries protective antibodies which shield the newborn from infection, and this study demonstrates the molecular mechanisms used by the mother's body to get these antibody-producing cells where they need to be."

Learning more about CCR10 may prove valuable in future efforts to help mothers better protect their babies.

"This [study] tells us that this molecule is extremely important, so if we want to design a vaccine for the mother so she could effectively pass protective antibodies to the child, it would be absolutely essential to induce high levels of CCR10," Wilson said.

"The molecular basis for this redistribution [of the mother's antibody-producing cells] has not been well-characterized, but Dr. Wilson's work has begun to crack that code and define the molecules responsible for this cellular redistribution and passive immunity," Daniel Campbell, a researcher at the Benaroya Research Institute in Seattle, a nonprofit organization that specializes in the immune system, said in the news release.

"It is important work that fundamentally enhances our understanding of how immunity is provided to the [baby] via the milk. Dr. Wilson's study will certainly form the basis for many other studies aimed at uncovering how the immune system is organized, particularly at mucosal surfaces."

More information

The National Women's Health Information Center has more about the benefits of breast-feeding.

SOURCE: Brigham Young University, news release, Oct. 22, 2008
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