Early Life Nutrition

The link between trained immunity and minimally-processed protein streams


When an infant is born, its immune system is not yet fully developed. Both the innate and adaptive immune systems need more time to be fully functional. For a long time, researchers believed that the innate immune system acts only as an immediate defence against invading pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, with limited specificity and little memory of how to respond to them. The adaptive immune system may react more slowly, but offers the benefit of a more specific response, as well as the ability to form immune memory. However, science has recently identified a new element of the innate immune system, known as “trained immunity,” or “innate immune training.”

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The potential for innate immune training through diet

It was found that the innate immune response towards a first infection can lead to development of innate immune memory, which is independent of the memory of the adaptive immune system. Just like adaptive immune response trained immunity leads to an elevated immune response in case of second infection1.

Some pathogens and pathogen-derived components, like those in vaccines, can induce trained immunity. Recently, there are indications from in vitro studies that dietary components also have the ability to induce trained immunity.2-6 Trained immunity plays an important role in the early years, as well as later in life when dealing with pathogens.

The benefits of minimally-processed protein streams

The benefits of minimally-processed protein streams

Breast milk contains a wide range of bioactive components that help to protect the infant against all kinds of infections.7 Most infant formulas on the market are based on bovine milk, which contains many immune-related components similar to those found in breast milk, although the concentrations are different and processing, especially heating, might impact their functionality.8-10

Hellinga et al. investigated whether two minimally-processed dairy streams from FrieslandCampina were able to induce trained immunity in human monocytes (blood cells) in vitro.  Both whey protein concentrate Vivinal® MFGM and serum protein concentrate (SPC) were both demonstrated to achieve this. Both streams contain relatively high amounts of immunoglobulin G (bIgG). To study the contribution of bIgG to trained immunity induction, the team tested purified bIgG as well as two whey streams that had been depleted of bIgG. The results confirmed that bIgG can induce trained immunity in vitro, and also demonstrated that Vivinal® MFGM and SPC have the same ability, even when blgG is removed from these whey fractions.

As a result of this study, we can see strong evidence that minimally-processed dairy streams like Vivinal® MFGM and SPC may contribute to protection against infections, and they do so by enhancing the innate immune response towards pathogens. 11 This is an exciting development for formulators seeking differentiated and value-adding ingredients for early life nutrition.

Download the paper here.

Related Ingredients


Vivinal® MFGM

Supports the development of the immune system via its potential role in gut maturation12-16, gut barrier function and by reducing the risk of infections17-20



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[17] Zavaleta, N. et al. Efficacy of an MFGM-enriched complementary food in diarrhea, anemia, and micronutrient status in infants. J. Pediatr. Gastroenterol. Nutr. 53, 561–568 (2011).

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[20] Veereman-Wauters, G. et al. Milk fat globule membrane (INPULSE) enriched formula milk decreases febrile episodes and may improve behavioral regulation in young children. Nutrition 28, 749–752 (2012).

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