Antiviral oxysterols are present in human milk at diverse stages of lactation

Andrea Civra, Valerio Leoni, Claudio Caccia, Stefano Sottemano, Paola Tonetto, Alessandra Coscia, Chiara Peila, Guido E. Moro, Pietro Gaglioti, Enrico Bertino, Giuseppe Poli, David Lembo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oxysterols are cholesterol oxidation derivatives. Those containing an additional hydroxyl group on the side chain of the cholesterol molecule result from a physiological enzymatic synthesis and include the majority of oxysterols present in the circulation. Among these, 25-hydroxycholesterol (25OHC) and 27-hydroxycholesterol (27OHC) are characterized by a broad antiviral activity and are now considered involved in the innate immune response against viruses. Despite the emerging role of these sterols in the innate antiviral defences, no data are available on their presence in human breast milk (BM) to date. In this study, we investigated the content of oxysterols of enzymatic synthesis in BM of twelve donor mothers at different stages of lactation (i.e. in colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk) by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. The side-chain oxysterols 25OHC, 27OHC, and 24S-hydroxycholesterol (24SOHC) were actually present in BM in all stages of lactation, but the concentration of 27OHC showed a remarkable peak in colostrum. Antiviral assays revealed that all the colostrum samples contained 27OHC concentrations that were active in vitro against two relevant pediatric viral pathogens: the human rotavirus and the human rhinovirus. Overall, this study discloses new antiviral components of BM and suggests a passive transfer of these protective factors to the infant via breastfeeding, especially in the first few days of lactation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105424
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Antiviral
  • Colostrum
  • Maternal milk
  • Oxysterols
  • Rhinovirus
  • Rotavirus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Antiviral oxysterols are present in human milk at diverse stages of lactation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this