• lactic acid bacteria;
  • human milk oligosaccharides;
  • galactooligosaccharides;
  • N-acetylglucosamine


Human milk contains about 7% lactose and 1% human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) consisting of lactose with linked fucose, N-acetylglucosamine and sialic acid. In infant formula, galactooligosaccharides (GOSs) are added to replace HMOs. This study investigated the ability of six strains of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus reuteri, Streptococcus thermophilus and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris, to digest HMO components, defined HMOs, and GOSs. All strains grew on lactose and glucose. N-acetylglucosamine utilization varied between strains and was maximal in L. plantarum; fucose utilization was low or absent in all strains. Both hetero- and homofermentative LAB utilized N-acetylglucosamine via the Embden–Meyerhof pathway. Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. plantarum were the most versatile in hydrolysing pNP analogues and the only strains releasing mono- and disaccharides from defined HMOs. Whole cells of all six LAB hydrolysed oNP-galactoside and pNP-galactoside indicating β-galactosidase activity. High β-galactosidase activity of L. reuteri, L. fermentum, S. thermophilus and L. mesenteroides subsp. cremoris whole cells correlated to lactose and GOS hydrolysis. Hydrolysis of lactose and GOSs by heterologously expressed β-galactosidases confirmed that LAB β-galactosidases are involved in GOS digestion. In summary, the strains of LAB used were not capable of utilizing complex HMOs but metabolized HMO components and GOSs.