Cellular Mechanism for Milk-Borne Transmission of HIV and HTLV

  • Sarka Southern
  • Peter Southern
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 503)


Transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human T-cell leukemia viruses (HTLV) by breastfeeding contributes significantly to the global spread of human retroviral diseases including acquired immunodeficiency virus (AIDS), adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) and HTLV-associated myelopathy-tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP). It is imperative to develop novel strategies that could be used to improve maternal health, lower the transmission rate and secure disease-free status in the infected child. We have used a combination of in vitro studies and analysis of normal and seropositive mothers to describe the cellular composition of milk during long-term breastfeeding, and define the cellular constituents that are involved in transmission of HIV and HTLV infectivity in mammary tissue and milk.1–4 Our results provide evidence that the breast can serve as a reservoir of retroviral infectivity, and that several constituent cell types in milk can support productive HIV and HTLV infections. During ingestion, milk is mixed with saliva prior to swallowing. We found that mixing milk and saliva triggers fundamental changes in the composition of milk by cellular disruption and the formation of complexes between milk cells and salivary epithelial cells. This process could alter both the infective and the protective properties of milk and play an important role in oral transmission of cell associated retroviruses.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission Luminal Epithelial Cell Mature Milk Breastfed Child Milk Cell 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarka Southern
    • 1
  • Peter Southern
    • 2
  1. 1.SWF Science CenterSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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