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Effect of the vitamin B12-binding protein haptocorrin present in human milk on a panel of commensal and pathogenic bacteria

Henrik R Jensen1, Martin F Laursen1, Dorte L Lildballe2, Jens B Andersen1, Ebba Nexø2 and Tine R Licht1*

Author Affiliations

1 National Food Institute, Mørkhøj Bygade 19, Technical University of Denmark, DK-2860 Søborg, Denmark

2 Aarhus University Hospital, Norrebrogade 44, Department of Clinical Biochemistry, DK-8000 Aarhus, Denmark

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:208  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-208

Published: 21 June 2011



Haptocorrin is a vitamin B12-binding protein present in high amounts in different body fluids including human milk. Haptocorrin has previously been shown to inhibit the growth of specific E. coli strains, and the aim of the present study was to elucidate whether the antibacterial properties of this protein may exert a general defense against pathogens and/or affect the composition of the developing microbiota in the gastrointestinal tracts of breastfed infants.


The present work was the first systematic study of the effect of haptocorrin on bacterial growth, and included 34 commensal and pathogenic bacteria to which infants are likely to be exposed. Well-diffusion assays addressing antibacterial effects were performed with human milk, haptocorrin-free human milk, porcine holo-haptocorrin (saturated with B-12) and human apo-haptocorrin (unsaturated). Human milk inhibited the growth of S. thermophilus and the pathogenic strains L. monocytogenes LO28, L. monocytogenes 4446 and L. monocytogenes 7291, but the inhibition could not be ascribed to haptocorrin. Human apo-haptocorrin inhibited the growth of only a single bacterial strain (Bifidobacterium breve), while porcine holo-haptocorrin did not show any inhibitory effect.


Our results suggest that haptocorrin does not have a general antibacterial activity, and thereby contradict the existing hypothesis implicating such an effect. The study contributes to the knowledge on the potential impact of breastfeeding on the establishment of a healthy microbiota in infants.