Comparative yields of antimicrobial peptides released from human and cow milk proteins under infant digestion conditions predicted by in silico methodology

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Mammalian milk proteins are known to encrypt antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) which can be passively released and exert bioactivity in the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems pre- or post-absorption, respectively. However, the contribution of ‘passive’ food-derived AMPs to the pool of endogenous and microbial AMPs has not been differentiated in previous research. Insight into the consequences of protein digestion and peptide bioactivity can be gained using in silico tools. The aim of this investigation was to use in silico methods to characterise the yields of AMPs released from major proteins in human and cow milk under infant digestion conditions, as relevant to early nutrition. The profiles of major proteins in human and cow milk from UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot, were subjected to in silico digestion by ExPASy-PeptideCutter, and the AMP activity of resulting peptides (≥4 amino acids, AAs) evaluated with the CAMPR3-RF predictive tool. The mass yields and counts of absorbing (≤10 AAs) and non-absorbing (>10 AAs) AMPs, as found in human, cow and ‘humanised’ ratios of cow milk proteins, were quantified. The results indicated that major whey proteins from both human and cow milks displayed a higher degree of hydrolysis than caseins, consistent with their known ‘fast’ digestion properties. Larger albumin and lactoferrin proteins generated relatively more and/or longer peptides. Yields of AMPs from cow milk were higher than from human milk, even after standardising the ratio of whey to casein and total protein concentration, as practiced in formulations manufactured for human newborn babies. Whereas alpha-lactalbumin (2.65 g L−1) and lactoferrin (1.75 g L−1) provided the major yields of AMPs in human milk whey proteins; beta-lactoglobulin, which is unique to cow milk, released the highest yield of AMPs in cow milk (3.25 g L−1 or 19.9% w/w of total whey protein), which may represent an important and overlooked biological function of this protein in cow milk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5442-5452
Number of pages11
JournalFood & Function
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2023

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