Abstract

Human milk composition is dynamic, and substitute formulae are intended to mimic its protein content. The purpose of this study was to investigate the potentiality of matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS), followed by multivariate data analyses as a tool to analyze the peptide profiles of mammalian, human, and formula milks. Breast milk samples from women at different lactation stages (2 (n = 5), 30 (n = 6), 60 (n = 5), and 90 (n = 4) days postpartum), and milk from donkeys (n = 4), cows (n = 4), buffaloes (n = 7), goats (n = 4), ewes (n = 5), and camels (n = 2) were collected. Different brands (n = 4) of infant formulae were also analyzed. Protein content (<30 kDa) was analyzed by MS, and data were exported for statistical elaborations. The mass spectra for each milk closely clustered together, whereas different milk samples resulted in well-separated mass spectra. Human samples formed a cluster in which colostrum constituted a well-defined subcluster. None of the milk formulae correlated with animal or human milk, although they were specifically characterized and correlated well with each other. These findings propose MALDI-TOF MS milk profiling as an analytical tool to discriminate, in a blinded way, different milk types. As each formula has a distinct specificity, shifting a baby from one to another formula implies a specific proteomic exposure. These profiles may assist in milk proteomics for easiness of use and minimization of costs, suggesting that the MALDI-TOF MS pipelines may be useful for not only milk adulteration assessments but also for the characterization of banked milk specimens in pediatric clinical settings

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