Dietary bovine lactoferrin increases intestinal cell proliferation in neonatal piglets

Elizabeth A. Reznikov, Sarah S. Comstock, Cuiyi Yi, Nikhat Contractor, Sharon M. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lactoferrin is a bioactive milk protein that stimulates cell proliferation in vitro; however, limited in vivo evidence exists to allow lactoferrin to be incorporated into infant formula. Herein, the effect of dietary bovine lactoferrin (bLF) on neonatal intestinal growth and maturation was investigated guided by the hypothesis that bLF would increase cellular proliferation leading to functional differences in neonatal piglets. Colostrum-deprived piglets were fed formula containing 0.4 [control (Ctrl)], 1.0 (LF1), or 3.6 (LF3) g bLF/L for the first 7 or 14 d of life. To provide passive immunity, sow serum was provided orally during the first 36 h of life. Intestinal cell proliferation, histomorphology, mucosal DNA concentration, enzyme activity, gene expression, and fecal bLF content were measured. Intestinal enzyme activity, DNA concentration, and villus length were unaffected by bLF. However, crypt proliferation was 60% greater in LF1- and LF3-fed piglets than in Ctrl piglets, and crypt depth and area were 20% greater in LF3-fed piglets than in Ctrl piglets. Crypt cells from LF3-fed piglets had 3-fold higher β-catenin mRNA expression than did crypt cells from Ctrl piglets. Last, feces of piglets fed bLF contained intact bLF, suggesting that some bLF was resistant to digestion and could potentially affect intestinal proliferation through direct interaction with intestinal epithelial cells. This study is the first to our knowledge to show that dietary bLF stimulates crypt cell proliferation in vivo. The increased β-catenin expression indicates that Wnt signaling may in part mediate the stimulatory effect of bLF on intestinal cell proliferation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1401-1408
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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