Factors affecting the concentration of sphingomyelin in bovine milk

E. L.F. Graves, A. D. Beaulieu, J. K. Drackley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sphingomyelin is a phospholipid located in the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane of most cells and is a component of the milk fat globule membrane. Sphingomyelin and its digestion products participate in several antiproliferative pathways that may suppress oncogenesis. Although milk and dairy products are important sources of sphingomyelin in the human diet, little is known about factors that influence sphingomyelin concentrations in milk fat or whether concentrations can be modified via the nutrition of cows. Sphingomyelin concentrations were determined in milk from Holstein and Jersey cows matched for parity and stage of lactation. Sphingomyelin was more concentrated in milk fat from Holstein cows than in milk fat from Jersey cows (1,044 vs. 839 μg/g of fat). Concentrations in whole milk did not differ because of greater milk fat content for milk from Jerseys. Differences between breeds may be related to the greater fat globule size in milk from Jerseys. Sphingomyelin content in whole milk increased with increasing days in milk because of associated increases in milk fat content. Regardless of breed, primiparous cows had greater amounts of stearic acid and less palmitic acid in sphingomyelin than did older cows. The sphingomyelin concentration in milk fat of cows in a commercial Jersey herd was lower for cows in their fourth or greater parity. Sphingomyelin content in whole milk was greater for cows in late lactation because of greater milk fat content. Feed restriction of multiparous Holstein cows to 37% of ad libitum dry matter intake increased milk fat content but did not affect milk sphingomyelin content or milk fat globule size. Supplementation of the diet with 4% soybean oil did not affect milk composition, sphingomyelin content, or milk fat globule size. Milk was sampled seasonally from 7 herds throughout Illinois during a 2-yr period. Sphingomyelin concentration in milk fat was greatest during summer and least during winter, but whole milk concentrations did not vary across seasons. We conclude that 1) sphingomyelin content of milk fat is greater in milk from Holsteins than that from Jerseys, 2) sphingomyelin content in whole milk increases with stage of lactation, and 3) sphingomyelin content of milk fat is greater during summer. However, efforts to produce milk with a greater sphingomyelin content through altering management and nutrition are unlikely to be successful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)706-715
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Bovine milk fat globule membrane
  • Milk fat
  • Sphingolipid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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