Lactoferrin: an important host defence against microbial and viral attack
  • P. ValentiEmail author
  • G. Antonini
Multi-author Review


The first function attributed to lactoferrin (Lf), an iron binding protein belonging to the non-immune natural defences, was antimicrobial activity that depended on its capacity to sequester iron. Iron-independent microbicidal activities, requiring direct interaction between this cationic protein and microbial surface components, were later demonstrated. Many other anti-microbial and anti-viral functions have since been ascribed to Lf. In mucosal secretions, iron and Lf modulate the motility and aggregation of pathogenic bacteria. Lf inhibits bacterial adhesion on abiotic surfaces through ionic binding to biomaterials, or specific binding to bacterial structures or both. Lf inhibition of bacterial adhesion to host cells requires Lf binding to bacteria and/or host cells. Lf hinders microbial internalization by binding to both glycosaminoglycans and bacterial proteins which can be degraded by Lf-mediated proteolysis. Moreover, Lf internalisation and localisation to the host cell nuclei could modulate bacterial entry into cells through gene regulation. Finally, the capability of Lf to exert antiviral activity, through its binding to host cells and/or viral particles, strengthens the idea that it is an important brick in the mucosal wall, effective against both microbial and viral attacks.

Key words.

Lactoferrin iron adhesiveness invasiveness bacterial aggregation biofilm viruses 

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Medicina SperimentaleII Universita’ di NapoliNapoliItaly
  2. 2.Laboratorio Interdisciplinare di Microscopia Elettronica e Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversitá ‘Roma Tre’RomaItaly

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