The human milk proteome and allergy of mother and child: Exploring associations with protein abundances and protein network connectivity

Pieter M. Dekker, Meghan B. Azad, Sjef Boeren, Piushkumar J. Mandhane, Theo J. Moraes, Elinor Simons, Padmaja Subbarao, Stuart E. Turvey, Edoardo Saccenti, Kasper A. Hettinga*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The human milk proteome comprises a vast number of proteins with immunomodulatory functions, but it is not clear how this relates to allergy of the mother or allergy development in the breastfed infant. This study aimed to explore the relation between the human milk proteome and allergy of both mother and child. Methods: Proteins were analyzed in milk samples from a subset of 300 mother-child dyads from the Canadian CHILD Cohort Study, selected based on maternal and child allergy phenotypes. For this selection, the definition of “allergy” included food allergy, eczema, allergic rhinitis, and asthma. Proteins were analyzed with non-targeted shotgun proteomics using filter-aided sample preparation (FASP) and nanoLC-Orbitrap-MS/MS. Protein abundances, based on label-free quantification, were compared using multiple statistical approaches, including univariate, multivariate, and network analyses. Results: Using univariate analysis, we observed a trend that milk for infants who develop an allergy by 3 years of age contains higher abundances of immunoglobulin chains, irrespective of the allergy status of the mother. This observation suggests a difference in the milk’s immunological potential, which might be related to the development of the infant’s immune system. Furthermore, network analysis showed overall increased connectivity of proteins in the milk of allergic mothers and milk for infants who ultimately develop an allergy. This difference in connectivity was especially noted for proteins involved in the protein translation machinery and may be due to the physiological status of the mother, which is reflected in the interconnectedness of proteins in her milk. In addition, it was shown that network analysis complements the other methods for data analysis by revealing complex associations between the milk proteome and mother-child allergy status. Conclusion: Together, these findings give new insights into how the human milk proteome, through differences in the abundance of individual proteins and protein-protein associations, relates to the allergy status of mother and child. In addition, these results inspire new research directions into the complex interplay of the mother-milk-infant triad and allergy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number977470
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022


  • allergen
  • allergic disease
  • allergy development
  • breastmilk
  • differential network analysis
  • immunology of human milk
  • immunomodulatory
  • milk proteome


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