• human milk;
  • cord blood mononuclear cells;
  • cytokine production;
  • allergy

Breast milk contains several components that provide specific immunity and affect the maturation of the infant's immune system. The aim of this study was to analyze the effects of breast milk, on mitogen- and allergen-induced cytokine production from cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMC), and if those effects differ between allergic and non-allergic mothers. The cells were incubated for 96 h with phytohemagglutinin (PHA), ovalbumin or cat dander in the presence of various dilutions of colostrum. Colostrum inhibited both mitogen- and cat-induced IFN-γ and mitogen-induced interleukin-4 (IL-4) production. The inhibition on IFN-γ production was to some extent caused by TGF-β, as the effect was modified when an anti-TGF-β antibody was added to the cultures. In contrast, colostrum enhanced allergen-induced production of the Th2-like cytokines IL-5 and IL-13, and this was accompanied with increased production of IL-10. No differences were found between allergic and non-allergic mothers. The inhibitory effect of breast milk on IFN-γ production, which was partly due to the high levels of TGF-β, together with the enhancing effect on IL-10 secretion, confirm that breast milk is anti-inflammatory. Although the production of IL-5 and IL-13 was enhanced by colostrum, this was accompanied with an increased production of IL-10. Together with the high levels of TGF-β in breast milk and inhibitory effect of colostrum on IL-4 production, this suggests a possible mechanism whereby breast-feeding may protect against the development of allergy. Despite differences in the composition of breast milk between allergic and non-allergic mothers, the effects of breast milk on cytokine production from CBMC were independent of the atopic status of the mothers.