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Human milk is the gold standard for newborn infants. Breast milk not only provides nutrients, it also contains bioactive components that guide the development of the infant's intestinal immune system, which can have a lifelong effect. The bioactive molecules in breast milk regulate microbiota development, immune maturation and gut barrier function. Human milk oligosaccharides (hMOs) are the most abundant bioactive molecules in human milk and have multiple beneficial functions such as support of growth of beneficial bacteria, anti-pathogenic effects, immune modulating effects, and stimulation of intestine barrier functions. Here we critically review the current insight into the benefits of bioactive molecules in mother milk that contribute to neonatal development and focus on current knowledge of hMO-functions on microbiota and the gastrointestinal immune barrier. hMOs produced via genetically engineered microorganisms are now applied in infant formulas to mimic the nutritional composition of breast milk as closely as possible, and their prospects and scientific challenges are discussed in depth.


Lianghui Cheng, Renate Akkerman, Chunli Kong, Marthe T C Walvoort, Paul de Vos. More than sugar in the milk: human milk oligosaccharides as essential bioactive molecules in breast milk and current insight in beneficial effects. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2021;61(7):1184-1200

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PMID: 32329623

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