Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Characterization and in vitro properties of oral lactobacilli in breastfed infants

Nelly Romani Vestman1*, Niklas Timby2, Pernilla Lif Holgerson1, Christine A Kressirer34, Rolf Claesson5, Magnus Domellöf2, Carina Öhman1, Anne CR Tanner34, Olle Hernell2 and Ingegerd Johansson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Odontology/Cariology section, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

2 Department of Clinical Sciences/Pediatrics section, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

3 Department of Microbiology, The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA

4 Department of Oral Medicine, Infection and Immunity, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115, USA

5 Department of Odontology/Microbiology section, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:193  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-193

Published: 15 August 2013



Lactobacillus species can contribute positively to general and oral health and are frequently acquired by breastfeeding in infancy. The present study aimed to identify oral lactobacilli in breast and formula-fed 4 month-old infants and to evaluate potential probiotic properties of the dominant Lactobacillus species detected. Saliva and oral swab samples were collected from 133 infants who were enrolled in a longitudinal study (n=240) examining the effect of a new infant formula on child growth and development. Saliva was cultured and Lactobacillus isolates were identified from 16S rRNA gene sequences. Five L. gasseri isolates that differed in 16S rRNA sequence were tested for their ability to inhibit growth of selected oral bacteria and for adhesion to oral tissues. Oral swab samples were analyzed by qPCR for Lactobacillus gasseri.


43 (32.3%) infants were breastfed and 90 (67.7%) were formula-fed with either a standard formula (43 out of 90) or formula supplemented with a milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) fraction (47 out of 90). Lactobacilli were cultured from saliva of 34.1% breastfed infants, but only in 4.7% of the standard and 9.3% of the MFGM supplemented formula-fed infants. L. gasseri was the most prevalent (88% of Lactobacillus positive infants) of six Lactobacillus species detected. L. gasseri isolates inhibited Streptococcus mutans binding to saliva-coated hydroxyapatite, and inhibited growth of S. mutans, Streptococcus sobrinus, Actinomyces naeslundii, Actinomyces oris, Candida albicans and Fusobacterium nucleatum in a concentration dependent fashion. L. gasseri isolates bound to parotid and submandibular saliva, salivary gp340 and MUC7, and purified MFGM, and adhered to epithelial cells. L. gasseri was detected by qPCR in 29.7% of the oral swabs. Breastfed infants had significantly higher mean DNA levels of L. gasseri (2.14 pg/uL) than infants fed the standard (0.363 pg/uL) or MFGM (0.697 pg/uL) formula.


Lactobacilli colonized the oral cavity of breastfed infants significantly more frequently than formula-fed infants. The dominant Lactobacillus was L. gasseri, which was detected at higher levels in breastfed than formula-fed infants and displayed probiotic traits in vitro.

Lactobacillus; L.gasseri; Growth; Adhesion; Gp340; Breastfed infants