Breast Feeding Educates Baby’s Immune System Interview with:
Ameae M. Walker
Vice Provost for Academic Personnel
Distinguished Teaching Professor
Biomedical Sciences
School of Medicine
University of California, Riverside What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: There has previously been some evidence that immune cells in breast milk could pass through the wall of the immature gut, but if active they, like antibodies in milk, were considered likely a form of passive immunity. We now show that in addition to some maternal cells being active in the newborn (i.e. that they do contribute to passive cellular immunity), there are, more importantly, others that go to the thymus where they participate in selection of the neonate’s T cells. In this fashion, the neonate develops cells that recognize antigens against which the mother has been vaccinated – a process we have dubbed maternal educational immunity. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Some vaccines, such as the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis, are not very effective in newborns. Vaccinating or boosting vaccinations of women before pregnancy could improve immunity in breastfed babies when they acquire maternal immune cells through the milk; certainly this is the case in mice. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: There are many, but the first three are:
1) We would like to collaborate on some clinical trials initiated in parts of the world where TB is a very large problem, such as India and China;
2) We have found the same result with Candida vaccination, but would like to expand the research to include other human pathogens that require a largely cell-mediated response since this route of infant vaccination may prove superior in other situations as well; and
3) We would like to expand the research to determine the cellular mechanism through which the maternal cells influence the T cell selection process in the neonate’s thymus. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


M. K. Ghosh, V. Nguyen, H. K. Muller, A. M. Walker. Maternal Milk T Cells Drive Development of Transgenerational Th1 Immunity in Offspring Thymus. The Journal of Immunology, 2016; 197 (6): 2290 DOI: 10.4049/%u200Bjimmunol.1502483

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD