Breast milk has non-nutritional protective effects on recipient infants. It has been speculated that bioactive substances present in human milk have important roles in protecting infants. However, the mechanisms by which such substances protect newborns are unclear. Therefore, we analyzed the growth-promoting activity of human milk and the intracellular signaling mechanism thereof using human fetal small intestinal (FHS 74 Int) cells. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulated the proliferation of these cells. However, this stimulation was less effective than that of aqueous milk (5% vol/vol). The bioactivity of human milk was heat stable but protease sensitive. EGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor did not repress the milk-induced growth-promoting effect on fetal small intestinal cells. Regarding the intracellular signaling pathway, the milk-induced cell proliferation pathway was tyrosine kinase dependent but was neither mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase nor phosphatidylinositol-3 (PI-3) kinase dependent. On the other hand, EGF-induced cell proliferation was tyrosine kinase, MAP kinase, and PI-3 kinase dependent. Rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of several intracellular proteins was detected after milk stimulation. Furthermore, the time course of phosphorylation induced by milk was different from that induced by EGF. The sizes of the proteins phosphorylated in response to milk were different from those of the Shc proteins phosphorylated in response to EGF. These results suggest that human milk induces fetal intestinal cell proliferation through a unique tyrosine kinase pathway different from the EGF receptor signaling pathway.
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