Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Interleukin 7 from Maternal Milk Crosses the Intestinal Barrier and Modulates T- Cell Development in Offspring

By Richard Aspinall, A. M. Prentice and P. T. Ngom


Background Breastfeeding protects against illnesses and death in hazardous environments, an effect partly mediated by improved immune function. One hypothesis suggests that factors within milk supplement the inadequate immune response of the offspring, but this has not been able to account for a series of observations showing that factors within maternally derived milk may supplement the development of the immune system through a direct effect on the primary lymphoid organs. In a previous human study we reported evidence suggesting a link between IL-7 in breast milk and the thymic output of infants. Here we report evidence in mice of direct action of maternally-derived IL-7 on T cell development in the offspring. Methods and Findings  We have used recombinant IL-7 labelled with a fluorescent dye to trace the movement in live mice of IL-7 from the stomach across the gut and into the lymphoid tissues. To validate the functional ability of maternally derived IL- 7 we cross fostered IL-7 knock-out mice onto normal wild type mothers. Subsets of thymocytes and populations of peripheral T cells were significantly higher than those found in knock-out mice receiving milk from IL-7 knock-out mothers. Conclusions/Significance Our study provides direct evidence that interleukin 7, a factor which is critical in the development of T lymphocytes, when maternally derived can transfer across the intestine of the offspring, increase T cell production in the thymus and support the survival of T cells in the peripheral secondary lymphoid tissue

Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020812
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Cranfield CERES

Suggested articles


  1. (2004). A dose effect of IL-7 on thymocyte development.
  2. (2001). Age-associated thymic atrophy is not associated with a deficiency in the CD44(+)CD25(-)CD3(-)CD4(-)CD8(-) thymocyte population. doi
  3. (2003). Birth season and environmental influences on patterns of thymic growth in rural Gambian infants. doi
  4. (1999). Breast-feeding influences thymic size in late infancy. doi
  5. (1991). CD4 expressed on earliest T-lineage precursor cells in the adult murine thymus. doi
  6. (2004). Colostrum obtained from women vaccinated with pneumococcal vaccine during pregnancy inhibits epithelial adhesion of Streptococcus pneumoniae. doi
  7. (1996). Decreased thymus size in formula-fed infants compared with breastfed infants. doi
  8. (1971). Development of structure and function in the fetal and newborn stomach.
  9. (2000). Does breastfeeding increase thymus size? doi
  10. (1982). Effect of immunization against rubella on lactation products. I. Development and characterization of specific immunologic reactivity in breast milk. doi
  11. (1997). Evaluation of five agents/methods for anesthesia of neonatal rats.
  12. (1992). History of nutritional immunology: introduction and overview. J.Nutr 122:
  13. (2007). Human breast milk: current concepts of immunology and infectious diseases. doi
  14. (2001). Il-7 and not stem cell factor reverses both the increase in apoptosis and the decline in thymopoiesis seen in aged mice. doi
  15. (2004). Improved thymic function in exclusively breastfed infants is associated with higher interleukin 7 concentrations in their mothers’ breast milk.
  16. (2002). Induction of functional secretory IgA responses in breast milk, by pneumococcal capsular polysaccharides. J.Infect.Dis 186: doi
  17. (2007). Interleukin-7 receptor expression: intelligent design. doi
  18. (2007). Low and undetectable breast milk interleukin-7 concentrations are associated with reduced risk of postnatal HIV transmission. doi
  19. (2010). Low thymic output in the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome measured by CCR9+CD45RA+ T cell counts and T cell receptor rearrangement excision circles. doi
  20. (1995). Lymphopenia in interleukin (IL)-7 gene-deleted mice identifies IL-7 as a nonredundant cytokine. J.Exp.Med 181: doi
  21. (2008). Maternal and child undernutrition: global and regional exposures and health consequences. doi
  22. (2003). Mucosal immunity: integration between mother and the breast-fed infant. doi
  23. (2003). Neonates support lymphopenia-induced proliferation. doi
  24. (1959). Passage of insulin through the wall of the gastro-intestinal tract of the infant rat. doi
  25. (1988). Polymeric and monomeric IgA response in serum and milk after parenteral cholera and oral typhoid vaccination. doi
  26. (1999). Prenatal or early postnatal events predict infectious deaths in young adulthood in rural Africa. doi
  27. (2009). Quantifying the development of the peripheral naive CD4+ T-cell pool in humans. doi
  28. (2009). Quantifying thymic export: combining models of naive T cell proliferation and TCR excision circle dynamics gives an explicit measure of thymic output. doi
  29. (2010). Robust vaccine-elicited cellular immune responses in breast milk following systemic simian immunodeficiency virus DNA prime and live virus vector boost vaccination of lactating rhesus monkeys. doi
  30. (2003). Safety and immunogenicity of respiratory syncytial virus purified fusion protein-2 vaccine in pregnant women. doi
  31. (1989). Search for role of milk-borne biologically active peptides for the suckling. J.Nutr 119:
  32. (1997). Season of birth predicts mortality in rural Gambia.
  33. (2004). Serotype-specific pneumococcal antibodies in breast milk of Gambian women immunized with a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine during pregnancy. doi
  34. (1995). Serum, breast milk, and infant antibody after maternal immunisation with pneumococcal vaccine. doi
  35. (1998). Structure of murine enterokinase (enteropeptidase) and expression in small intestine during development.
  36. (2006). T lineage progenitors: the earliest steps en route to T lymphocytes. doi
  37. (2001). T lymphocytes need IL-7 but not IL-4 or IL-6 to survive in vivo. doi
  38. (2005). The many faces of IL-7: from lymphopoiesis to peripheral T cell maintenance. J.Immunol 174: doi
  39. (1998). The trophic action of IL-7 on pro-T cells: inhibition of apoptosis of
  40. (2008). Thymus size at 6 months of age and subsequent child mortality. J.Pediatr 153: 683–8, doi
  41. (2002). Thymus size at birth is associated with infant mortality: a community study from GuineaBissau. doi
  42. (2004). Tlymphocyte subsets, thymic size and breastfeeding in infancy. doi
  43. (2001). World Health Organisation (WHO) doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.