Journal: Science Advances
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Lifelong benefits of breastfeeding
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Mothers exposed to infections before pregnancy could transfer lifelong immunity to their children through breastfeeding.
Breastmilk is an important source of proteins that protect newborn babies against viruses, but it was thought that the benefits only last throughout nursing.
A team that included researchers from the University of Cape Town infected female mice with a parasitic worm two weeks before allowing them to reproduce. Some of the resultant litter breastfed from the previously infected mother, while the rest fed from healthy females.
The researchers then exposed each mouse worm infection throughout their lives. Only mice who had nursed from an infected parent acquired lifelong resistance to the worm. The breastmilk had passed on the mother’s newly adapted anti-worm immune cells (T-cells), which trained the offspring’s immune system to fight off that particular parasite.
Understanding how pre-pregnancy infections affects children’s health could lead to new vaccines for future mothers to help protect their progeny.
- Science Advances 5, eaav3058 (2019). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aav3058