Breast milk of HIV-positive mothers has potent and species-specific in vivo HIV-inhibitory activity

Angela Wahl, Caroline Baker, Rae Ann Spagnuolo, Lisa W. Stamper, Genevieve G. Fouda, Sallie R. Permar, Katie Hinde, Louise Kuhn, Lars Bode, Grace M. Aldrovandi, J. Victor Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Despite the nutritional and health benefits of breast milk, breast milk can serve as a vector for mother-to-child HIV transmission. Most HIV-infected infants acquire HIV through breastfeeding. Paradoxically, most infants breastfed by HIV-positive women do not become infected. This is potentially attributed to anti-HIV factors in breast milk. Breast milk of HIV-negative women can inhibit HIV infection. However, the HIV-inhibitory activity of breast milk from HIV-positive mothers has not been evaluated. In addition, while significant differences in breast milk composition between transmitting and nontransmitting HIVpositive mothers have been correlated with transmission risk, the HIV-inhibitory activity of their breast milk has not been compared. This knowledge may significantly impact the design of prevention approaches in resource-limited settings that do not deny infants of HIV-positive women the health benefits of breast milk. Here, we utilized bone marrow/liver/thymus humanized mice to evaluate the in vivo HIV-inhibitory activity of breast milk obtained from HIV-positive transmitting and nontransmitting mothers. We also assessed the species specificity and biochemical characteristics of milk's in vivo HIV-inhibitory activity and its ability to inhibit other modes of HIV infection. Our results demonstrate that breast milk of HIV-positive mothers has potent HIV-inhibitory activity and indicate that breast milk can prevent multiple routes of infection. Most importantly, this activity is unique to human milk. Our results also suggest multiple factors in breast milk may contribute to its HIV-inhibitory activity. Collectively, our results support current recommendations that HIV-positive mothers in resource-limited settings exclusively breastfeed in combination with antiretroviral therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10868-10878
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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