Human and bovine colostrum (BC) contain a remarkable amount of bioactive substances, including antibodies towards many common pathogens of the intestinal and respiratory tract as well as growth factors, vitamins, cytokines and other proteic, lipidic and glucidic factors. In this study we investigated whether BC had any immunomodulatory effect on human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy donors. To this aim we focused on the production of IL-12 and IFN-gamma, cytokines involved in the Th1 polarization required for a successful immune response towards intracellular pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. BC induced a dose-dependent production of IL-12 by CD14+ monocytes, but was unable to induce IFN-gamma production. However, BC differentially affected stimuli-induced IFN-gamma production: it enhanced IFN-gamma in response to weak antigenic stimulation and it inhibited IFN-gamma in response to strong antigenic stimulation. These effects were not dose-dependent. We also measured PBMC proliferation, which was substantially unaffected by BC. Our data suggest that the Th1-promoting activity of BC could contribute, together with the antibodies, to the protective effect of BC on the offspring. BC could also represent an inexpensive therapeutic tool in prevention and treatment of several human microbial infections, including influenza.
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