It has been reported that breast-feeding is responsible for approximately 40% of the HIV transmissions from HIV-positive mothers to children. Human breast milk, however, is known to contain numerous biologically active components which protect breast-fed infants against bacteria, viruses, and toxins. The purpose of this study was to purify and characterize breast milk mucin and to determine its anti-HIV-1 activity in an HIV inhibition assay. Sepharose CL-4B column chromatography and caesium chloride isopycnic density gradient purification were used to isolate and purify the mucin. Following Western blotting and amino acid analysis, an HIV-1 inhibition assay was carried out to determine the anti-HIV-1 activity of crude breast milk and purified milk mucin (MUC1) by incubating them with HIV-1 prior to infection of the human T lymphoblastoid cell line (CEM SS cells). SDS-PAGE analysis of the mucin, together with its amino acid composition and Western blotting, suggested that this purified mucin from human breast milk was MUC1. The HIV inhibition assay revealed that while the purified milk mucin (MUC1) inhibited the HIV-1 activity by approximately 97%, there was no inhibition of the HIV-1 activity by crude breast milk. Although the reason for this is not clear, it is likely that because the MUC1 in crude milk is enclosed by fat globules, there may not be any physical contact between the mucin and the virus in the crude breast milk. Thus, there is a need to free the mucin from the fat globules for it to be effective against the virus.

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