Breast milk oligosaccharides can be an alternative to antibiotics

Breast milk oligosaccharides can be an alternative to antibiotics
Breast milk oligosaccharides can be an alternative to antibiotics

Experiments on cells and mice have shown that a variety of oligosaccharides present in human milk prevent them from being infected by pathogenic streptococci.


Group B streptococci (Streptococcus agalactiae) are a major cause of sepsis and meningitis, often leading to miscarriages. Usually, antibiotics can cure the infection, although this becomes more difficult as resistant strains spread. Oligosaccharides of breast milk can become a new alternative to such drugs. Experiments conducted by Steven Townsend's team at Vanderbilt University have shown that they protect cells from infection. Scientists reported on this work at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Oligosaccharides of breast milk (OGM) are complex carbohydrates, consisting of a small number of "units" -monosaccharides. In breast milk, they are extremely numerous and varied, but they are practically not absorbed by the body of the newborn. The functions of OGM are to help in the formation of a healthy microflora, to fight pathogens, to stimulate immunity. Previously, Townsend and colleagues showed that oligosaccharides inhibit the growth of streptococci and the formation of biofilms. Now, their effects have been demonstrated on real living cells.

The authors took breast milk from several donors, examining its effect on streptococcal infection of macrophages of the placenta and cells of the membrane surrounding the fetus. Used cultures of human cells. “We found that OGM completely suppressed bacterial growth in both macrophages and membranes,” the scientists say. Therefore, further they decided to conduct experiments on live mice: new experiments confirmed that OGM prevent the spread of microbes along the reproductive tract of pregnant females.

In addition, biologists have grown different species of streptococci - pathogenic S. agalactiae and beneficial S. salivarius - separated by a semipermeable membrane. OGM was added to the solution, as well as galactose derivatives, which form the basis of infant formula. In the absence of galacto-oligosaccharides, OGM compounds suppressed the growth of both bacteria, but beneficial microbes received advantages in the mixture. Apparently, OGMs are converted to lactic acid, which has an antimicrobial effect, but galacto-oligosaccharides allow S. salivarius to survive, providing them with nutrition.

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