Research on human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) has received much attention in recent years. However, it started about a century ago with the observation that oligosaccharides might be growth factors for a so-called bifidus flora in breastfed infants and extends to the recent finding of cell adhesion molecules in human milk. The latter are involved in inflammatory events recognizing carbohydrate sequences that also can be found in human milk. The similarities between epithelial cell surface carbohydrates and oligosaccharides in human milk strengthen the idea that specific interactions of those oligosaccharides with pathogenic microorganisms do occur preventing the attachment of microbes to epithelial cells. HMOs may act as soluble receptors for different pathogens, thus increasing the resistance of breast-fed infants. However, we need to know more about the metabolism of oligosaccharides in the gastrointestinal tract. How far are oligosaccharides degraded by intestinal enzymes and does oligosaccharide processing (e.g. degradation, synthesis, and elongation of core structures) occur in intestinal epithelial cells? Further research on HMOs is certainly needed to increase our knowledge of infant nutrition as it is affected by complex oligosaccharides. Read More
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