Human milk miRNAs primarily originate from the mammary gland resulting in unique miRNA profiles of fractionated milk
Human milk (HM) contains regulatory biomolecules including miRNAs, the origin and functional significance of which are still undetermined. We used TaqMan OpenArrays to profile 681 mature miRNAs in HM cells and fat, and compared them with maternal peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and plasma, and bovine and soy infant formulae. HM cells and PBMCs (292 and 345 miRNAs, respectively) had higher miRNA content than HM fat and plasma (242 and 219 miRNAs, respectively) (p < 0.05). A strong association in miRNA profiles was found between HM cells and fat, whilst PBMCs and plasma were distinctly different to HM, displaying marked inter-individual variation. Considering the dominance of epithelial cells in mature milk of healthy women, these results suggest that HM miRNAs primarily originate from the mammary epithelium, whilst the maternal circulation may have a smaller contribution. Our findings demonstrate that unlike infant formulae, which contained very few human miRNA, HM is a rich source of lactation-specific miRNA, which could be used as biomarkers of the performance and health status of the lactating mammary gland. Given the recently identified stability, uptake and functionality of food- and milk-derived miRNA in vivo, HM miRNA are likely to contribute to infant protection and development.