, Volume 87, Issue 1, pp 5-30

Caseins of various origins and biologically active casein peptides and oligosaccharides: Structural and physiological aspects

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Summary

The first part of the present review is focused on structural aspects concerning the so far studied casein fractions of various origins: they are compared to the four classical major bovine caseins (σsl-, σs2- β- and κ). The calcium-sensitive casein fractions are always phosphorylated whereas κ-caseins are glycosylated. The study of the casein genes showed that the calcium-sensitive caseins diverged from a common ancestral gene and during the evolution, intergenic and intragenic duplications occurred. The considerable conservation of the phosphorylation sites emphasizes the importance of phosphorylated residues for the function of caseins, i.e. the formation of micelles and the binding of Ca2+. In κ-caseins all the prosthetic sugar groups are linked by O-glycosidic linkages: their number varies from 0 to 5 in bovine κ-casein and up to 10 in human κ-casein. The structures of the known κ-casein carbohydate moieties are described. Finally the milk clotting process (interaction κ-casein/chymosin) is compared to the blood clotting process (interaction fibrinogen/thrombin): a large number of similarities could be noted between both clotting phenomena.

The second part of the review is devoted to the study of short casein peptides endowed with various biological activities. Some of them behaved as immunomodulators or casomorphins or angiotensin I converting enzyme inhibitors; others demonstrated an effect on platelet functions. A ‘strategic zone’ containing immunostimulating and opioid peptides could be located in cow and human β-caseins. Furthermore bitter peptides, emulsifying peptides, calcium absorption enhancing peptides, chymosin-inhibiting peptides, have also been described and several further properties have been attributed to the κ-caseinoglycopeptide; two tetrasaccharides isolated from the latter possess blood group activities.

In conclusion caseins, the main milk proteins, should not only be considered as a nutriment but as a possible source of biologically active components.

If, in the future, some of the discussed active peptides cannot be characterized in vivo, they can all, nevertheless, be synthesized and used either as food additives or in pharmacology.