TitleProteolytic Systems in Milk: Perspectives on the Evolutionary Function within the Mammary Gland and the Infant.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsDallas, DC, Murray, NM, Gan, J
JournalJournal of mammary gland biology and neoplasia
Date Published2015 Jul 16

Milk contains elements of numerous proteolytic systems (zymogens, active proteases, protease inhibitors and protease activators) produced in part from blood, in part by mammary epithelial cells and in part by immune cell secretion. Researchers have examined milk proteases for decades, as they can cause major defects in milk quality and cheese production. Most previous research has examined these proteases with the aim to eliminate or control their actions. However, our recent peptidomics research demonstrates that these milk proteases produce specific peptides in healthy milk and continue to function within the infant's gastrointestinal tract. These findings suggest that milk proteases have an evolutionary function in aiding the infant's digestion or releasing functional peptides. In other words, the mother provides the infant with not only dietary proteins but also the means to digest them. However, proteolysis in the milk is controlled by a balance of protease inhibitors and protease activators so that only a small portion of milk proteins are digested within the mammary gland. This regulation presents a question: If proteolysis is beneficial to the infant, what benefits are gained by preventing complete proteolysis through the presence of protease inhibitors? In addition to summarizing what is known about milk proteolytic systems, we explore possible evolutionary explanations for this proteolytic balance.